May 08–North Augusta City Council voted Monday night to add the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam to its list of projects to be considered for funding under Capital Projects Sales Tax 4 — just in case other efforts to preserve the river level fall short.
No dollar amount will be designated for the lock and dam, but the city could find opportunities to shift sales tax dollars within CPST4 over the next seven years. There won’t be another capital project sales tax vote until then, so the city’s unanimous vote was a hedge of sorts.
For example, if another funding source was found for a project on the city’s list, that sales tax revenue could be applied to another project.
The city also added the phrase “and apparatus” to its request for $10 million to build a new Public Safety headquarters, which would open the possibility of spending some of that money on new equipment, such as a fire truck.
Mayor Bob Pettit expressed little hope that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would ever agree to fix the aging structure, which is in disrepair but still helps maintain the water level in the Savannah River, where both Augusta and North Augusta have riverfront development.
Pettit said rehabbing the structure is the best option for maintaining river levels, also called “the pool.”
After Congress defunded the lock and dam, the Corps proposed building a rock weir — essentially a wall — across the river, with a fish passage to help endangered shortnose sturgeon reach their spawning grounds.
“I can pretty much guarantee you that if that happens, the pool will be lower,” Pettit said. “The Corps’ interpretation is that the pool isn’t same all the time, so they’ll pick a level, and it’ll probably be lower than it is now.”
Pettit said South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson and Georgia Rep. Rick Allen were still working to reauthorize the lock and dam and fix it, but “that’s a tough fight.”
If those efforts fail, Pettit wanted to leave some options for local officials to act, perhaps through a coalition of Aiken and Richmond counties and their respective states. Something like a capital project sales tax would be the only way to get that money without a major property tax increase, Pettit said.
City Administrator Todd Glover said both additions to the sales tax list would be better to have and not need than need and not have.
Councilman Fletcher Dickert agreed.
“Down the road, if nothing else, it shows a commitment on our part,” he said.
Both the amendments and the amended list passed unanimously, with all council members present.