Congress considering Riverkeeper’s lock and dam proposal

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The Savannah Riverkeeper’s proposal to demolish the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam in Augusta and build a rock dam could revitalize the facility’s park and create more recreational opportunities on the river.

The lock has been broken for two years.

The state of the structure and the nearby park have been in limbo since the early 2000’s.

Both are owned by the Army Corp of Engineers, but the park is maintained by the city of Augusta.

Even more confusing, federal law states the park and the structure will eventually be owned by the city of North Augusta, but a Senate bill could fix all the confusion.

The lock and dam is in a state of disrepair and unless it gets federal funding, it will fall apart.

“The Corp of Engineers is not going to pay to fix it because they don’t even have enough money to fix the dams that do serve their original purpose,” Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said.

The lock system was originally used for commercial barges.

The Riverkeeper says the last 15 years have been wasted trying to figure out what to do with the structure and the nearby park.

The gatehouse located at the main entrance of the park is in terrible shape. It’s damaged and barely standing.

Senate Bill 2848 will deauthorize the lock and dam and establishes it won’t be given to North Augusta.

The bill will also do one of two things.

Repair the lock and create a fish passage using a rock ramp or remove the lock and dam and create a rock dam, similar to one that was constructed on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina.

The proposed rock dam will maintain the upstream pool and allow fish to get up the river.

“The fishing community should see a big boom in the available fish. So this will make downtown Augusta and Columbia County a much richer river,” the Riverkeeper said.

The bill also transfers the ownership of the park to the city of Augusta.

“One of the things that Riverkeeper would like to see is the lock system, which is not used now, that little bit being converted into a really nice white water course,” the Riverkeeper said.

The Senate and the House need to have a conference committee to work out disagreements between both versions of the water resource bill.

All of Georgia and South Carolina’s Senators are in favor of the proposed bill.

The Riverkeeper believes this project will move forward with full support from both houses of Congress.

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