March 14– Mar. 14–Just before midnight Tuesday, the Aiken Legislative Delegation took a step forward in the fight to keep the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam.
The South Carolina House of Representatives passed a budget proviso that would prohibit the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control from using funds “to approve the licensing, permitting, authorization or certification related to the new Savannah River Bluff Lock Dam so as to maintain the current water level,” according to an email from Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken.
Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, said the delegation is trying to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from tearing down or changing the Lock and Dam, saying North Augusta should remain “South Carolina’s Riverfront, not South Carolina’s creek front.”
“Our Legislative Delegation has supported the city from day one in our fight to maintain the river as an asset to the quality of life our residents enjoy,” said North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit. “This is a positive step in making sure the Corps of Engineers recognizes the State of South Carolina has an important role to play in the process to reach a final decision on the fate of the Savannah River pool between the cities of North Augusta and Augusta.”
Hixon and state Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, have met with the Corps and Gov. Henry McMaster regarding the issue, and Hixon said Tuesday, he and Young had a conference call with city leaders and staff members of both U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson.
Hixon mentioned the drawdown simulation the Corps held in February and the results, which included boat docks with no water underneath and low water levels.
“All of our investment there with the ballpark and hotel and subdivisions along the river, no one wants to live like that,” he said.
Hixon said Graham is arranging a meeting with the head of the Corps of Engineers, and that a member of U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s staff was in North Augusta on Wednesday touring the river.
Pettit said the city continues to be engaged with Graham, Scott and Wilson.
“They saw what our riverfront will look like if the option selected by the Corps is constructed, and not a single one liked that outcome. We appreciate their support as they, and we, consider possible future actions,” Pettit said.
More action is coming that would “complement” Tuesday’s proviso, as well, Hixon said.
“Our state is actively involved in this,” he said.
Pettit said he hopes the united front of North Augusta, Aiken County and Augusta-Richmond County will cause the Corps to realize the rock weir is untenable.
“The simulated drawdown surely must have caused the Corps to realize they badly underestimated the impact upon our communities. With all the expertise at its disposal, the Corps has to come up with a better idea,” Pettit said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with providing fish passage for sturgeon along the Savannah River, and have introduced a plan that, if approved, would replace the Lock and Dam with a fixed rock weir. The project is in the public comment stage now until April 16. Comments can be submitted on the Corps’ website.
Lindsey Hodges is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. Follow her on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges.