April 14– Apr. 14–Have you ever found yourself in a dispute, and as the argument lengthens, you see more and more people leaving your side and taking the other side — until you’re all by yourself?
At some point, you might have to admit the actual problem: It’s you.
We sincerely hope the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers feels that way. They should, about the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam.
We’ll sum up the controversy for those of you coming in late.
The Lock and Dam, standing since the 1930s, has helped maintain a steady water level of a pool of the Savannah River at or near Augusta and North Augusta. That steadiness benefits riverside property owners, area industry, recreation and our water supply. The federal Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act was amended in 2016 to “deauthorize” the Lock and Dam, and to proceed with one of two options — repair the dam and provide passage for sturgeon to swim upriver to spawn; or tear the dam down and replace it with a structure that fish can navigate but will keep the proper pool level. The concern over fish is because the city of Savannah is deepening its busy harbor. Deepening the harbor is expected to disturb the sturgeons’ spawning ground.
The Corps supports a plan to remove the Lock and Dam and replace it with a rock weir that can’t be adjusted like the dam’s locks. That means Mother Nature decides what the river level will be, and that’s not always optimal. Twice in the past 20 years, the Corps has conducted experimental river drawdowns to mimic the effect of removing the Lock and Dam. In both attempts, water levels dropped noticeably — some might say dangerously — and just about any worthwhile local endeavor connected to the river suffered.
Another plan involves, as we mentioned, fixing the dam and building a fish passage. Know who agrees with that plan?
An exaggeration? Not by much. Its sentiment is accurate. The city of Augusta approves of that plan. The city of North Augusta agrees. The Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau agrees. The Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce — representing the area’s most influential business leaders — agree.
If you’re a local resident who has devoted just a few minutes of time to think about it, you likely agree. And probably the people living on either side of you agree that fixing the Lock and Dam is the best option.
Now Georgia and South Carolina’s elected officials, on both state and national levels, are sharing nods of agreement with that ever-growing group calling for repairs.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson likely would agree. The South Carolina House of Representatives recently attached a proviso to a bill that would prevent the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control from issuing a permit to the Corps if it goes forward with its dreadful weir plan.
State Rep. Bill Hixon, an Aiken Republican, is optimistic that the amended bill also will pass the Senate, and will be signed by the governor because he’s already approved the bill’s language.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp agrees, too. He was in Augusta with his family Thursday, taking the city’s Red Carpet Tour that touts local economic development successes.
“I know it’s a critical issue for economic development and property rights and other things,” Kemp told The Augusta Chronicle. “I’ll have to deal with the Corps of Engineers myself. I understand they have a role but they’ve got to treat our citizens and our taxpayers in a fair way. I’m hoping at the end of the day they’ll heed what our congressional delegation is saying but we stand ready when asked.”
And now, both U.S. senators from Georgia and South Carolina, and U.S. representatives from Augusta’s and North Augusta’s congressional districts, have fired off a letter to federal officials about the Lock and Dam. You can read the entire letter at the bottom of this page.
The letter’s tone is diplomatic and respectful. But combined with the anger and dismay of most of the Augusta area’s population, it is a shout. It demands answers and action that up to now the Corps hasn’t seemed to provide to the satisfaction of anyone who relies on the bounty of the Savannah River and appreciates its beauty.
For all those people, and for the generations who come after us, the Lock and Dam must be repaired.