North Augusta council debates lock and dam options

The Augusta Chronicle

Jan. 08–The North Augusta City Council weighed in on the future of New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam on Monday night, urging an option that is not preferred by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The dam was deauthorized in 2016 after Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. The dam must be removed or altered because it interferes with the migration of the vulnerable shortnose sturgeon.

“That one act required the Army Corps of Engineers to consider two alternatives for mitigating the passage of the fish. One was to repair the lock wall and modify the dam, which would allow fish to pass, or to build a structure across the Savannah River to maintain the pool,” Mayor Robert Pettit said. “The WIIN Act states that both options must maintain the pool for water supply and recreation activities as in existence on the day of enactment of the act.”

Though Pettit said the corps interprets that language to mean the pool must not be destroyed, the council perceives the message to mean that the elevation of the pool must be maintained.

The council passed a resolution Monday night that echoes Augusta officials’ opinions.

The corps’ option would likely lower the pool of water the lock and dam currently helps contain on the North Augusta and downtown Augusta riverfront by 2.5 to 3 feet, which is why the council prefers another method.

If the council’s option is chosen, the lock wall would be repaired and the gate structure would be retained. However, a fish passage would be constructed on the Georgia side of the river to allow the vulnerable shortnose sturgeon to access its spawning grounds in the Augusta Shoals.

The sturgeon’s current access is restricted by the new lock and dam, and the sturgeon need a fish bypass because of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which will deepen the Savannah shipping channel by 5 feet and could allow saltwater to travel upstream. More saltwater could threaten the sturgeon.

“The Savannah River Harbor Expansion Project has affected the spawning habitat of several fish species, most notably the shortnose sturgeon, and also may increase the salinity concentrations in the inner harbor,” Pettit said. “The mitigation plan that’s required for the shortnose sturgeon is to permit it to gain access to its historical spawning grounds in the Savannah River.”

The council’s ideal option would maintain the existing pool and keep it as close as possible to its current elevation.

Any alterations to the lock and dam would be funded at least in part by Capital Project Sales Tax funds.

The council also decided during the study session to table a resolution authorizing the city to purchase a new pumper for public safety from Capital Sales Tax II funds. During the study session, the council debated whether to pay the cost of the pumper, $494,718, in full by Jan. 31. If the council pays in full, Spartan Fire and Emergency would provide a discount of $13,292. The council will hold a special meeting Jan. 14 to discuss the resolution.

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.