OPINION: City Ink: At hearing, Army Corps didn’t want to hear much

The Augusta Chronicle

March 10– Mar. 10–The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held what it advertised would be an interactive workshop on the Corps’ plan to replace the New Savannah River Lock and Dam with a rock weir, but there was a big misunderstanding as to what “interactive” meant.

The folks gathered for the interactive workshop Wednesday evening thought the Corps was going to interact with them, but they were sadly mistaken. “Interactive” to the Corps must have meant they were going to interact with their computer.

There was no public hearing in the usual sense that the public gets to speak and let the officials holding the meeting hear what they have to say, like when the Transportation Department holds a hearing on a road widening. They’ve already decided they’re going to widen the road, regardless of what the folks there say. But at least they get to say something. That was not the case when Col. Daniel Hibner, the commander of the Corps’ Savannah District, came to town Wednesday.

“We’re not here to defend the project,” he told homeowners whose docks collapsed into the mud during the recent river drawdown. “We’re not here to debate the project,” he told those worried about the future of Augusta and North Augusta when the water in the river is permanently two feet or more lower than it is now.

So the only thing you can draw down from that is Hibner didn’t want to hear the questions and concerns of folks worried about the future of Augusta and North Augusta when the Corps demolishes the lock and dam. Obviously, Hibner just wanted to get on with the dog and pony show and get out of town.

Mayor Hardie Davis was disappointed by the lack of interaction and said so at the Augusta Exchange Club the next day. He said the Corps’ presentation was not a public hearing, but he’s going to make sure there is one at the Marble Palace. The comments will be recorded and sent to the Corps during the public comment period, he said.

But will they listen to them?

The mayor also said Augusta, North Augusta and Aiken and Columbia counties are speaking with one voice to make the case for repairing and retaining the lock and dam with a fish ladder for the sturgeon to get upstream and spawn.

In Other News: Davis said you’ll be paying to park in downtown Augusta by the end of July. Now there’s something to look forward to.

Some other things to look forward to are:

–Augusta commissioners tackling a revised adult entertainment ordinance this week that would allow alcohol sales and nude dancing in clubs in industrial areas

–Commissioners approving a proposed calendar listing steps officials must take before voters go to the polls on Nov. 3, 2020, to vote on a new special purpose local option sales tax package. And then there’s going to be a push to convince voters to renew the T-SPLOST, aka the Transportation Investment Act. Not a tax, mind you, but an “investment.”

Quote of the Week: “To the degree that we’ve got four candidates. You know, I wish they were different candidates. But this is the hand of cards we have. As of yesterday, 63 people had voted in early voting. I think that tells you something about how the district feels about those candidates.” — Davis, when asked Thursday at the Exchange Club meeting about the candidates running to complete the term of District 5 Augusta Commissioner Andrew Jefferson, who died in November. All of his would-be successors — interim Commissioner Johnny Few, Kelby Walker, Bernard Harper and Bobby Williams — have had dealings with the legal system. (See last week’s column.)

“…You Just Might Find You Get What You Need”: Davis wanted a Chevrolet Suburban LTZ, not because it’s a luxury vehicle but because of business travel.

“Not just in the state, but outside the state as well,” he said.

Space is a necessity when he meets with developers and other important public officials.

For example, he’ll be hosting about 30 Georgia mayors in April, and cramming four or five officials in something like a Toyota Camry “is not appropriate,” he said.

I should say not. It would be disgraceful.

Back to the Future: “Could you please move over a little?” the mayor of Atlanta says to the mayor of Unadilla.

“I’m over as far as I can go,” the Unadilla mayor replies. “And you don’t have to be so pushy just because you’re from Atlanta and I’m from that other Georgia.”

Davis’ chief of staff leans into the window and says, “Can you squeeze one more in there?”

“No. We can hardly breathe as it is.”

“I’m just put out we’re having to go to the Red Carpet in a Toyota Camry,” says the mayor of Rebecca. “Down in south Georgia we’d have rounded up four or five extended cab pickups to haul everybody in.”

“In affluent Cobb County, we’d have had a fleet of limousines,” says the mayor of Marietta. “I’m so embarrassed for my friend Hardie, having to squeeze us all into a Toyota Camry. It’s a good thing everybody didn’t show up. The Augusta commissioners must be a bunch of cheapskates.”

“Oh, far from it,” says the mayor of Albany. “Money is no object to them. Commissioners said they wanted the mayor to have a vehicle. They just didn’t want him to have a gas guzzler as big as the sheriff’s. Besides, they’re tired of him upstaging them all the time in his bully pulpit.”

The mayor of Hahira and grand marshal of the annual Hahira Honeybee Festival said he’d pile everybody in the bed of his old turnip truck that he didn’t fall off of but drove to the state Legislature his first term in 1980.

“Everybody thought I fell off it,” he said. “Nosiree. As soon as we dug up the last of the turnips and sold them, I headed for Atlanta. I come roaring off that interstate and got to the Capitol blowing black smoke from the exhaust. I tell you, I turned a lot of heads. When I wheeled into the reserved parking lot, the attendant refused to believe I was a state senator and said I couldn’t take up two spaces. I did anyway.”

“OK, let’s get going now before somebody else shows up for the Red Carpet and we have to let them sit on one of our laps,” said the mayor of Flowery Branch.

The PIO Will be MIA: Augusta’s Public Information Officer Jim Beasley is leaving the city, he stated in a brief news release Friday.

“Please be advised that March 13, 2019, will be my last day as Public Service and Information Officer with the city of Augusta, Ga.,” the release stated.

City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson hired Beasley in October 2016. He was a longtime spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control before coming to Augusta.

She will be Greatly Missed: Sadly, another fine Augusta woman has passed away. Mary Lou Garren died Thursday, leaving her husband Hank Garren and four daughters. Mary Lou was co-founder, past president and president of the Summerville Neighborhood Association and an ardent defender of the area and its historic preservation.

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.