May 10–The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will delay for six months an announcement on what it plans to recommend on the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam in Augusta and that might be helpful to advocates on both sides of the debate over the future of the aging structure.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been studying options on what to do with the Lock and Dam, first opened in 1937 but now decommissioned and crumbling, in order to maintain a pool of water around downtown Augusta but also allow for migratory fish passage. The corps had been saying it would release a preference among at least a couple of options in “late summer” but has now delayed that announcement about six months, said Russell Wicke, a spokesman for the Savannah District office.
“We had to redo the models” used to study the various options, he said. “And that took time.” Once it is announced, the Corps would then have a period for public comment, typically 30 days but sometimes extended beyond that, before making a recommendation to the Secretary of the Army, said Wicke and spokesman Billy Birdwell of the Savannah office.
Advocates for replacing and for saving the Lock and Dam said the additional time could be welcome.
Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus had asked the Augusta Commission to award a contract to McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group to look at using the lock portion of the old structure as part of a new whitewater park at that site. The commission voted Tuesday instead to put that concept study, which now includes studying other amenities like a zip line and a water taxi, out for an expedited bid process that could take a couple of weeks at least. Bonitatibus and some commission members had been worried there might not be enough time to do the study and get it to the Corps during the comment period.
The delay “gives us more time, which is helpful because the commission has expanded the project from beyond just the whitewater to looking at the plan holistically,” she said. “So that makes sense and gives us more time so we’re not trying to rush and do a multi-phased project but actually provide the time to do the whole project in one fell swoop, hopefully.”
Landowner Leroy Simkins Jr., who is part of a group still fighting to get the law changed to repair and restore the Lock and Dam, said the delay “might give us more time to strengthen our core group and our efforts.” The cities of Augusta and North Augusta, who both draw drinking water from the pool, as well as some local industries, have signed onto the effort to save the Lock and Dam. U.S Rep. Rick Allen, R-Ga., released a statement Wednesday that he “has been working with stakeholders to draft language that works for all involved parties to reauthorize the lock and dam.”
But the delay also continues the uncertainty that surrounds the Lock and Dam and what the Corps might do, Simkins said.
“It means we still don’t know what we’re fighting,” he said. “We’re fighting a phantom. We’re going to continue to work to try to save the lock and dam.”