Insiders would like to hear U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s position on this, but they are fascinated to hear from Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus
Here in the final months of this Lock and Dam circus, the local crowd is getting restless.
Even Augusta Commissioner Sean Frantom threatened to sue the Corps of Engineers on television last week.
The spotlight is bright on the spot where ringmaster Sen. David Perdue stood three years ago when he championed this fish weir law. He was also spotted there more recently just a couple weeks ago.
But he’s not there now.
Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus has long been criticized for her starring role in the clown show.
But like Perdue, the spot where Bonitatibus was standing up until a few months ago is empty.
Whatever happened to “Rock the Dam,” anyway?
However Bonitatibus and the troupe might have to come out for a curtain call to explain their 2013 settlement with the Corps of Engineers and Georgia Ports Authority.
In the settlement, the Riverkeeper and South Carolina released all their claims and issued the permits the Corps of Engineers and Georgia Ports Authority needed to start dredging the harbor and destroying sturgeon habitat in the process.
However, in exchange for these luxuries, the Riverkeeper and South Carolina required the Corps to agree to a number of conditions.
When you dig in, the conditions are there in black and white. We draw attention to two of them in particular.
The words of the settlement clearly require the Corps to repair the Lock and Dam and build an “off channel” fish passage on the South Carolina side of the River.
The Corps is also required to start building this project at the same time inner harbor dredging starts in Savannah.
The problem is the Corps doesn’t want to do any of this.
Instead of repairing the Lock and Dam they want to remove it.
Instead of building something on the South Carolina side they want to build a rock weir that spans the full length of the river where the Lock and Dam is now.
And while they want to start inner harbor dredging very soon (like, any day now), they won’t be able to start building anything at the Lock and Dam for months because, well… because drawdown. And the expert report that explained how it happened. That’s why.
The Corps is way overdue on its Lock and Dam decision.
Between the drawdown, the Corps report that failed to predict it, and the embarrassing expert report that produced the post-mortem on all this, the Corps’ seat has gone red hot over the last few months.
As one well placed Insider recently put it “I think that they were just prepared to just bulldoze ahead with what they wanted to do, but that [expert report] … it really validated everything [Augusta] was saying and asked the same questions that [Augusta] was asking.”
The decision on the Lock and Dam was kicked up from Atlanta to Washington recently but apparently even the Pharaoh is unimpressed with these trinkets.
With no good engineering or science to offer, the Corps has been forced out into the desert to wander like Moses in search of a promised land where they can build whatever they want to build and they can build it whenever they want to.
Settling this holy land (i.e., finally recommending the rock weir plan they’ve been threatening for years) would violate the terms of the 2013 Riverkeeper settlement.
As Augusta Commissioner Brandon Garrett succinctly put it in a recent Augusta Chronicle guest column, the idea is that “their plan can’t even be executed unless South Carolina and a judge from the 2013 Savannah Riverkeeper lawsuit OKs it.”
It seems likely that one of the reasons the Corps keeps pushing back their decision date is because South Carolina is pressing these issues among others.
Through statements, funded litigation and existing legislation, folks like S.C. Rep. Bill Hixon, S.C. Sen. Tom Young, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, and S.C. Governor Henry McMaster have already made it clear they are very serious about protecting North Augusta, Aiken County and the surrounding areas in South Carolina.
The Georgia section of the crowd would love it if Sen. Perdue could step back into the spotlight and acknowledge that the law he championed in 2016 needs to be put down because it has escaped the circus tent and it is currently rampaging the C.S.R.A. countryside.
And doubling down on the recent speech he delivered in Augusta saying the pool level in Augusta shouldn’t drop would be a cherry on top.
Insiders say now is the time for the Savannah Riverkeeper to exercise the settlement rights agreed upon and save the Lock and Dam.