AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)- Strong opinions on how to fix the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam were on display Tuesday evening at a meeting at the boathouse.
The issue started with the deepening of the Savannah Harbor. With that project came regulations requiring fish be able to swim upstream. Right now, the lock and dam are blocking their path. So it has to change by law, but the question is how to change it.
The New Savannah River Bluff Lock and Dam has seen better days. It turned 80 this year.
“The locks haven’t worked since 2014, and we have significantly put a lot of money in trying to save it,” said Tonya Bonitatibus of Savannah Riverkeeper, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the river. “However, if we don’t do anything, it’s going to fall into the river.”
She says it was a win for her organization when Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2016. She says they worked to get language included that would create something she says would fix two problems, the run down lock and dam, and the need for fish to pass.
She says a rock weir would do that. A weir is a type of dam.
But critics say a weir is not the way to go.
“We’re trying to save this pool and save the lock and dam,” said Roy Simkins, who owns a house and land on the river.
They’re worried about maintaining the pool of water that stretches from the lock and dam in the Phinizy Swamp area of south Augusta to the canal area north of downtown.
They say that weir dosen’t have the flexibility of the lock and dam, and they say that could mean big trouble if we’re dealing with a drought or a flood.
“The lock and dam, if it were gone and replaced with a weir, you can’t pick up that pile of rocks like you can a gate,” said Tom Robertson of the Cranston Engineering Group.
They propose going back to another idea the Corps of Engineers had, rerouting some of the river around the lock and dam, so the fish can swim right on by. They say it would cost about $53 million, which they say is a lot less than the price tag on the weir.
But the Riverkeeper says no prices have been determined yet and critics’ concerns won’t play out under the language of the bill and the other federal regulations.
“FEMA will not allow any project to move forward that increases flooding– that’s not allowed,” she said. “And two, the pool is federally protected now with the language.”
Bonitatibus says the Army Corps of Engineers is working on studies and cost analyses. She says they will not proceed with a rock weir until it has been approved by the studies.
She says they have to begin work on the lock and dam by the time the harbor deepening begins, which is set to be in two years.
Citizens at the meeting signed comments to send to the Army Corps of Engineers about their concerns.