Corps of Engineers decides on rock weir option for lock and dam

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will replace New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam near Augusta with a rick weir fish passage that results in a lower pool of water in the Savannah River, a move almost certain to be challenged by a lawsuit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today it will choose an option that will demolish New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam in favor of a rock weir fish passage that will lower the pool in the Savannah River significantly. The decision, which is widely and vehemently opposed by Georgia and South Carolina leaders, will likely end up in a lawsuit perhaps as early as this week, officials said. The Corps left open the door for a higher water level but it will require local entities to contribute to it.

The Corps said it will hold a “public engagement” on the plan from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 in Augusta at the Boathouse Community Center, 101 Riverfront Drive where it will discuss details of the plan. But public reaction to the plan from Georgia and South Carolina at all levels of government was swift.

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Ga., said the move would specifically violate the requirements of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, which authorized a fish passage but also required the pool in the Savannah River be maintained “for navigation, water supply, and recreational activities, as in existence on the date of enactment of this Act,” which on Dec. 16, 2016 was 114.5 feet above sea level. The Corps’ alternative would maintain an average river pool at least two feet below that and that would not be acceptable under the requirements of the law. The Georgia and South Carolina delegations, including U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, David Perdue, Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, have already sent the Corps a letter specifically stating that.

Allen said he expects South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to file suit by the end of the week or next week. Robert Kittle, a spokesman for Wilson’s office, said he could not confirm that but noted that the South Carolina legislature has already appropriated $1.4 million for Savannah River-related litigation.

By not respecting that law, “it’s a military takeover of our waterways,” Allen said. “We’re in the fight of our lives.”

The chose alternative, known as 2-6d, would be a rock weir that stretches the length of the river just upstream from the current lock and dam and would allow the passage of endangered sturgeon and other migrating fish. The move is necessary to mitigate damage to the habitat those fish currently use in the river near the Savannah Harbor, which is being deepened and will impact that habitat. The lock and dam would be demolished after the weir is in place.

Augusta Commissioner Brandon Garrett said he is “disappointed,” particularly in light of area leaders’ trip to Washington, D.C., last week to try to save the aging structure and the findings of an outside expert report, which criticized the Corps’ own research and analysis.

By: Susan McCord and Tom Corwin

Stay Connected

Use the form below to sign up for my newsletter and get the latest news and updates directly to your inbox.