Communities along the river feel worried, frustrated, ignored after corps decision to not maintain river levels

Tuesday, October 29, 2019
News 12 at 11 o'clock

Lock & Dam (Source WRDW)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Army Corps of Engineers announced today that they will build a set of rock walls and remove the aging lock and dam.

It's already getting a lot of push back from our local and national lawmakers and especially from people who live the river. People who live in communities along the river say they are worried, frustrated, but mostly feeling ignored.

When the corps simulated the drawdown in February, it left many areas, especially parts below the Fifth Street Bridge drained and muddy.

A picture is worth a thousand words but for John Hill, who lives in River North, this picture is worth a fight.

"I don't know if they ever got to the heart of the situation. This is where I live. This is where my family is, this is where my friends are. I don't think their heart was involved in it like our heart is," said Hill.

The Army Corps of Engineer's decision on a smaller rock wall was devastating to people along the river. Back in February, the corps simulated what this option would do to the pool and for some, it wasn't pretty.

"Behind me is my dock. It was sitting on dirt. I didn't get my boat out in time so it was sitting in the dirt. You had to go about halfway out to see water again," said Hill.

People along the river saw a 1 to 1.5-foot drop in the river level, affecting homeowners, boaters, fishermen, future businesses along the river, and the fate of traditions like the ironman, the regatta, and more.

“It's definitely a disappointing day for Augusta. It doesn't mean this is the news that's going to this isn't the decision that's going to stay. We're going to fight. We're going to try to find another solution that the corps is offering," Brandon Garrett, the district 8 commissioner.

For many in Augusta, the fight is far from over. Congressmen and city leaders are threatening a lawsuit.

“The corps did leave it open for some local input to find some local solutions, a compromise of sorts,” said Garrett.

But many are wondering why their complaints, all 461 sent to the corps during the public comment period, weren't heard in the first place.

They say the most comments, almost 50%, wanted to keep the lock and dam. 25% of them were preferences for higher water levels.

"Is it worth destroying everything you're going to destroy because of a fish," said Hill.

He's talking about the sturgeon. The corps wants to make sure it can make it farther upstream to lay eggs.

Here was the criteria for the public comments:

The public comments were categorized into six main groups.

The largest category of comments (48%) were petitions to retain the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam. The Corps studied two alternatives that had the potential to retain the structure. Alternative 1-1, which would retain the gates only, was eliminated because it is unlikely to create satisfactory conditions needed to pass sturgeon effectively, in accordance with the required biological opinion. The other is the original fish passage design identified as the No Action Alternative. This alternative retained the entire structure with a fish passage around the South Carolina side. Legislation from WRDA 2016 eliminated this alternative.

Twenty-five percent of the comments expressed a preference for water levels higher than provided by the selected alternative. About half of this category specifically requested a higher weir, which remains an opportunity with non-federal funding. The other half focused on concerns over the appearance of the shoreline and exposed training wall during the simulation in February 2019. Details on the analysis of the simulation are presented in the final report, including unique conditions that occurred causing an inaccurate portrayal of river conditions of the selected alternative. The primary reason for the inaccuracy of river conditions in February is the flashboards at Stevens Creek Dam, which were being replaced during the simulation. The flashboards normally regulate discharge spikes from J. Strom Thurmond Dam (JST) to steady flows throughout the day. The result without flashboards showed conditions of the lowest possible flows one could reasonably expect to see instead of the intended low-average flows for the selected plan. When JST was not generating hydropower the releases downstream dropped close to zero for long periods throughout the day. Despite those conditions, the water intake analysis by the Corps demonstrated there were no impacts to the water supply needs of the Augusta metro area for the recommended plan, Alternative 2-6d.

Approximately 4% of the comments were from private dock owners expressing concerns over impacts to their docks. The Corps encourages private dock owners to contact their respective Corps Regulatory offices for details on individual permits, and if needed, on permit modifications to extend or adjust docks. Those comments in support of the selected alternative were 2% of the public comments.

Approximately 1% of the comments expressed water supply or intake concerns. During the simulation, which demonstrated conditions of extreme drought flow, there were no intake problems identified.
The remaining comments were widely-varying miscellaneous comments that didn’t fit into the other five categories. These accounted for about 20% of the total comments. Some were based on interests from state or federal agencies, some were based on assorted environmental interests, and others focused on varying individual distinctions of personal circumstances.

For more information, click here.

Copyright 2019 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.