May 01– May 1–Augusta leaders could be getting more ammunition in the fight to save New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam after an Augusta Commission committee on Tuesday approved $100,000 more for experts. Some Augusta residents also said Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis’ taxpayer-funded vehicle needs to keep a city decal on it.
The Augusta Commission held a required public hearing needed before the decals could come off, as Davis has requested out of concern for his safety. Arlene White said Davis can choose what he wants on his city vehicle “as long as he pays for (the vehicle) himself” which elicited laughs and cheers from the audience. There was no action after the short hearing and the commission would have to give its approval for the decals to come off, Commissioner Sammie Sias said.
Augusta Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier had requested the additional money in part because the two expert firms hired by the city, Merrick Co. and Cranston Engineering Group, had already exceeded the $45,000 Augusta and North Augusta allocated for them by more than $36,000 in the furious run-up to get the cities’ lengthy comment about its objections to a plan proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by the deadline.
“We did what we had to do,” Wiedmeier said. “They both did a fantastic job. And worked well together, too.”
The additional money would be to keep the firms should the city need to do additional design work on an alternative during negotiations with the Corps, which Wiedmeier said he hopes to begin soon. Both cities have said the Corps’ recommended plan, which would replace the lock and dam with a rock wier and fish passage that would also drop the pool of water in the Savannah River by an average of two feet downtown, would have a devastating impact on them
“To me, protecting our pool is the most important issue facing Augusta,” Commissioner Brandon Garrett said, but he “wants to be very, very careful” in opening up city coffers for it. Wiedmeier said he couldn’t estimate what the final expense will be “but I think we have to spend it.”
Commissioner Ben Hasan agreed.
“We’re in emergency status on this on all fronts,” he said. “We need to support it.” The Corps is “playing games” with language from the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 that Augusta, Georgia and South Carolina leaders say requires the Corps to maintain the pool at the level it was when the law was passed, Hasan said.
“As a result of that, we need all hands on deck,” he said.
Sias pointed out that Wiedmeier originally requested $75,000 but “we low-balled him” to $30,000, and wondered if $100,000 would be enough.
“It will carry us for a while,” Wiedmeier said. Commissioner Bill Fennoy said North Augusta has already contributed once to the process and Davis should reach out to them to see if they will give more.
“North Augusta has just as much to lose on their side of the river as we do on this side of the river,” he said.
“I think they know that, too,” Wiedmeier said, noting that North Augusta “worked great with us and worked every step of the way.”
Mayor Pro Tem Sean Frantom said North Augusta and perhaps others should be a part of it.
“At the end of the day, this is a regional issue and not an Augusta issue,” he said.