Hearing offers chance for public to speak about Lock and Dam

March 23, 2019

A dozen-plus citizens from both North Augusta and Augusta had the chance to make public comments about the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam out loud during a public meeting held in Augusta on Thursday.

Held at the Augusta Commission chambers, members of the public alongside elected officials made their comments, which were recorded by a court reporter to be sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“My main goal is to keep South Carolina’s riverfront, not South Carolina’s creek front, and I want to keep Augusta’s riverfront, not Augusta’s creek front,” said South Carolina state Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta.

Many of the people making comments spoke about the simulation held by the Corps in February, which caused dramatic river pool lowering.

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis said the Corps of Engineers assured the communities that the riverfront would not be significantly affected.

“The simulation demonstrated that the Army Corps of Engineers was wrong,” Davis said. “The leadership, the citizens and the stakeholders of Augusta, Georgia, and North Augusta, South Carolina, have made it clear that the conditions of the river during the simulation was not and is not what we want to see every day 24/7, 365 days of the year.”

Many at the meeting spoke about the Corps’ preferred alternative – a fixed crest weir with floodplain bench – versus the alternative local governments have supported, which would repair the lock wall and include Georgia-side fish passage.

A post on the Corps’ blog Balancing the Basin shows a chart with costs for the two projects. The fixed crest weir would cost $105,456,000, while the alternative that retains the lock wall would cost $380,319,000.

The post also says the Corps eliminated Alternative 1-1 from further consideration due to a lower ability to pass fish.

The Corps is required to build an alternative that would allow fish, mainly shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon, to pass the structure along the river.

“I find it frightening quite honestly to find that the Endangered Species Act is being used to damage our cities and this community,” said North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit.

Pettit said the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is providing the money for the fish passage project but that, in his opinion, North Augusta and Augusta residents are paying the price.

Russell Wicke, corporate communications officer for the Corps of Engineers’ Savannah District attended Thursday’s meeting and listened to the public comments.

“I understand that a lot of people want higher water than what they saw in the simulation and that’s understandable,” he said. “What the simulation demonstrated is that some people’s property was adversely impacted, so that’s basically the main thing I walked away with understanding tonight.”

U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson from South Carolina and Rick Allen from Georgia each spoke at the meeting.