Riverkeeper among those offering solutions for Corps’ recommended plan

The Augusta Chronicle

April 14– Apr. 14–While some are still searching for a solution for New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam that allows for a higher pool in the Savannah River and allows the required fish passage, the Savannah Riverkeeper believes it has that solution and one that would accommodate the plans’ goals and a whitewater park that could potentially stretch more than 30 miles.

While the issue has become “a political football,” Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said, she thinks there is a way to do both that the Corps could find acceptable.

“We have an opportunity to do something that benefits everybody,” she said.

The idea the Riverkeeper is submitting during the current public comment period would still build the in-channel rock dam but at a couple of feet shorter than the Corps’ recommended plan. To keep the pool higher and also allow for greater flood control and fish passage, the idea would be install four6-foot Obvermyere gates at the top that could be raised or laid flat pneumatically. The gates when fully opened would keep the average pool higher between Augusta and North Augusta, about 1.5 feet lower than current conditions but higher than the roughly two feet lower the Corps’s recommended plan. That plan when simulated in February led to widespread condemnation, particularly from riverside homeowners who saw docks and boats on the ground and big muddy channels and sandbars open between them and the river channel.

The gates at the top of the crest, which can be installed in roughly 10-foot sections like panels, would allow for greater control of water flow upstream and through the weir itself, Bonitatibus said in remarks that will be submitted to the Corps. The gates can be opened or laid flat to allow migration and pass high water that would normally result in flooding to surrounding property, the problem the Corps was trying to avoid with a lower weir height, while still maintaining a higher pool of water upstream that Augusta wants. Importantly, it would also avoid a rock floodplain the Corps plan would build 275 feet into Lock and Dam Park that “destroys the park,” she said. “That park is incredibly important. Our river community uses that park and it is vital.”

Instead of that floodplain, she would argue for a bypass channel around the rock dam and only some ways into the park, connecting with Butler Creek below the park as it flows into the Savannah. Bridges across it would still allow bank fishermen to reach a spit of land on the other side. The channel would not only help with flood control but would also accommodate a whitewater park that is a little different from what has been discussed before.

The plan also envisions fish passage around two dams upstream, the Augusta Canal Diversion Dam and Stevens Creek Hydroelectric Dam, to essentially get all the way up to the shoals. Those fish passages as well as the one replacing the lock and dam, could be built to accommodate non-motorized craft that would allow a whitewater or aquatic park to stretch 36 miles from essentially below Thurmond Dam, Bonitatibus said.

“If the entire 36 miles of river were restored, it would yield a whitewater canoeing and kayaking area that would be unmatched in the rest of the country,” she wrote in its comments. “It would also restore vital habitat to a wide range of fish and other aquatic species. The Augusta economy would also benefit from these changes.”

The gates above have been used on various projects throughout the country and their incorporation into river structures has already been done.

“This isn’t an impossible thing,” Bonitatibus said.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.