Most days, the Augusta Commission will spend $10,000 without batting an eye.
And when it comes to studies, the city of Augusta has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to consultants to review everything from the city workers’ salaries to whether minority- and women-owned firms have fair opportunities to compete for city contracts.
The list of studies conducted by the Augusta government goes on and on.
But for some reason, it’s an uphill battle for those asking the Augusta Commission to support spending $10,000 to hire a Colorado firm called the McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group to evaluate the area around the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam as a possible site for a future whitewater rapids park.
For months, Savannah Riverkeeper Executive Director Tonya Bonitatibus has been urging the Augusta Commission to spend the money because currently the locks are not functioning.
In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has formally deauthorized the lock and dam.
“The structure has fallen into a state of disrepair and poses a safety hazard to the public,” wrote Russell Wicke, the corporate communications officer of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District in 2017. “Deauthorization is the official classification when the federal government determines a project no longer has a federal requirement for its original purpose, in this case, commercial navigation.”
This deauthorization of the lock and dam superseded former laws that directed the Corps to rehabilitate the historic structure and turn it over to the care of neighboring cities.
So, the lock and dam is currently in limbo while the Corps is reviewing the structure. They plan to make a decision on its future later this year.
Basically, there are basically two options:
The first alternative is the repair of the lock wall and modification of the structure to allow safe passage to the historic spawning grounds of the Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon and maintain the pool for navigation upstream, water supply and recreational activities.
The second alternative calls for the removal of the lock and dam after the construction of a water damming rock structure or “weir” is built further upstream.
Bonitatibus is fighting to save the locks by suggesting a reasonable alternative: a whitewater rapids park.
And if anyone knows whether such a park is feasible at the lock and dam, it’s the
McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group.
This whitewater group has worked with cities and community groups all over the country including Raleigh, N.C., Tulsa, Okla., and Florence, Ala.
In fact, it is the same company that designed the popular rapids park on the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Ga.
And Columbus has definitely made a name for itself by embracing rafting and kayaking along the Chattahoochee River.
In fact, the Chattahoochee Whitewater Park was recently named one of the “Top Twelve Greatest Man-Made Adventures on the Planet” by USA Today.
The entire course is said to be the longest urban whitewater rafting area in the world, consisting of both classic and challenging runs on the same 2.5-mile stretch of river that is operated by a dam-controlled release, which occurs daily.
It’s not uncommon for the river to undergo daily fluctuations between 800 cubic feet per second in volume, which is ideal for slower, family-friendly runs down the Chattahoochee River, to 13,000 cubic feet per second in volume, which provides visitors with a wilder, more challenging ride.
With its close proximity to downtown, Columbus’ whitewater park has become a centerpiece of the community and created a booming rafting industry in the area.
But success didn’t happen overnight.
Back in 2012, the city of Columbus decided to remove two century-old dams and replace the former structures with a state-of-the-art kayak surf wave just blocks from the downtown area.
And yet, the city has also respected its links to its industrial past.
“Our community has done a heck of a job maintaining the historic character of our downtown,” Richard Bishop, president of Uptown Columbus and manager of the river park recently told Canoe & Kayak Magazine.
For a moment, just imagine the possibilities in Augusta.
A whitewater rapids park at the lock and dam could really propel the Augusta area into being a regional outdoor recreational destination.
So, what’s the hold up?
Why not spend $10,000 and find out whether a whitewater park is even possible?
Well, U.S. Rep. Rick Allen is leading the charge to get the lock and dam reauthorized, so the federal government can rehabilitate the facility.
Over the past few months, Allen has suggested developing a “power generation project” to address the crumbling lock and dam.
As a result, some Augusta commissioners seem leery about moving forward with a whitewater study if Allen has another proposal up his sleeve.
They don’t want to be seen as stepping on the congressman’s toes.
The Augusta Commission is expected to have a final vote on whether to spend $10,000 on the whitewater park study next week.