AP NEWS

Comment period on Augusta lock and dam plan extended

March 3, 2019

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Those interested in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam are getting more time to comment on the project.

The Corps is extending the time the City of Augusta has to respond by 30 days, until April 16, The Augusta Chronicle reports . That’s the deadline to submit comments on the plan to replace the structure with a rock weir that allows fish to pass.

The Augusta Commission has opposed any plan that lowers the pool of water in the Savannah River near Augusta, and the Corps’ plan would drop it about 2 feet (0.61 meters) at the Fifth Street bridge downtown and about 3 feet (0.91 meters) at the lock and dam.

The commission’s Engineering Services Committee voted Tuesday to hire Merrick and Co. and local firm Cranston Engineering to help the city respond and make the case for a different alternative the corps studied, which would repair the lock and dam and put in a fish passage on the Georgia side.

Without the extension, “it would have been almost impossible” to make that case, said Augusta Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier, who is paying the firms and helping put together that response

Richard McLaughlin of Merrick, who has drafted a concept study for the city to build a whitewater park near the lock and dam, said the city’s preferred plan “works much better for whitewater than the Corps’ recommended plan.” He has worked on about 50 similar projects in various cities, and most of his work is on preserving a river pool the city wants to keep while creating a fish passage and recreation opportunities. In recent years, McLaughlin said, the Corps has been “pretty reasonable to work with.”

A recent simulation of the Corps’ recommended plan through a drawdown appeared to drop the river level even more drastically and prompted outrage from homeowners on both sides of the river who saw docks sitting on the ground and mud flats that extended far out from the bank.

In extending the comment period, the commander of the Corps’ Savannah District appeared to acknowledge both.

“Part of my decision to grant a 30-day extension was to accommodate requests from local and federal officials,” Col. Daniel Hibner said in a news release. “But another big part of the decision was prompted from my engagements and personal assessments with residents in their backyards in Augusta and North Augusta during the simulation exercise.”

The plan seeks to mitigate damage expected from the Savannah harbor expansion, where deepening the shipping channel to the Port of Savannah will cause more saltwater to creep up the river and harm spawning grounds for endangered shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon and other migratory fish. The Corps’ plan would remove the lock and dam and conceptually allow for fish to pass over the weir to historic spawning grounds in the Augusta Shoals blocked by the current structure.

A meeting giving the public a chance to comment has been scheduled in Augusta on Wednesday.

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Information from: The Augusta Chronicle , http://www.augustachronicle.com