Colorado-based McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group was hired last year in a big hurry to find a solution to a huge problem for Augusta.
The solution didn’t work. Augusta is getting slapped around by the Corps right now. And the Mayor took the opportunity to slap McLaughlin around at Tuesday’s Commission meeting.
McLaughlin was about halfway through his PowerPoint presentation at the Augusta Commission on Tuesday when Mayor Hardy Davis interrupted him with “Rick, you have two minutes left.”
Apparently the Mayor (and the rest of the Commission) is not interested in hearing about the shiny “River vision Plan” (zip lines, ropes courses, light shows, etc.) that was the subject of his PowerPoint.
The Mayor and the Commission are apparently more interested right now in hearing about the only reason McLaughlin was brought to town the first place in early 2018. They want to know where they stand in the process of talking the Corps of Engineers into a solution Augusta can live with.
“Everyone was anticipating that today would be the deliverables that have been asked for on more than one occasion now” Davis told Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier who had risen when the Mayor cut McLaughlin short.
And so after some tough questions from Commissioners the small posse of consultants Augusta has penciled in to receive well over $100,000 were denied the luxury of completing their PowerPoint presentation and pointed back in the direction of Colorado.
The tough questions resulted in more than a few “I don’t knows” and several indications that McLaughlin’s negotiations with the Corps haven’t been all that involved during his nine or ten months on the job.
Augusta’s elected officials were probably bewildered by the fact that McLaughlin could not tell Commissioner Brandon Garrett with any certainty whether any Whitewater plan at all would be acceptable to the Corps of Engineers.
He also told commissioners he didn’t know if the federal government would be “okay” with his plan’s effect on endangered sturgeon.
When asked about the cost of his “River vision plan” McLaughlin responded that the cost would be dictated by “how well you can integrate the project with the corps project.”
How in the world can it be possible that McLaughlin doesn’t know “how well” his plan “integrates” with “the Corps project?”
Again, the only reason McLaughlin was brought to Augusta at all was to “Coordinate” this “integration.”
Sure Augusta also heaped concepts for zip lines, etc. onto his task list as well. But insiders indicate the Mayor and the Commission are in no mood to hear about this dessert right now. They are still waiting for their entrée. They want to know where they stand with regard to integrating Whitewater and a fish passage to the satisfaction of both Augusta and the Corps.
“Deliverables” for this all-important job included “an outline of negotiations … that aligns with USACE’s existing timeline of events.” Additionally, McLaughlin was required to deliver cost estimates in addition to a “concept development memorandum” which would describe “general project objectives, and major constraints, hydrology, whitewater recreation potential, typical project schedule information, and recommended next steps.” Perhaps most importantly, McLaughlin was required to provide records of his communications with the Corps.
Analysis of these deliverables could provide Commissioners with something of a post-mortem for their failed 2018 attempt to get out ahead of the Corps and wring something good out of a very tough situation.
McLaughlin’s rough treatment at the hands of the Augusta government at Tuesday’s Commission meeting could be evidence the Augusta commissioners are experiencing some buyer’s remorse. It’s highly possible that city leaders are aware by now they have been led down a dead end street and Tuesday’s Commission meeting just served up an irresistible opportunity to take back a pound of flesh.
Insiders indicate that at this late date Mayor Davis and the rest of the commission must be aware of how much they were misled by Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus when she showed up at the Commission in February of 2018 to get tens of thousands of dollars to bring McLaughlin to town.
The fact is that dismantling the Lock and Dam has been a dream of environmental groups for many decades and the 2013 Savannah Harbor Settlement between environmental groups and the Corps and Georgia Ports requires exactly that.
Insiders are puzzled as to why the Riverkeeper continues to tell Austin Rhodes and others that this Lock and Dam fish passage is not a requirement of the 2013 Settlement.
Insiders indicate the Riverkeeper is in fact right now running point for environmental groups nationwide who salivate at any opportunity for “dam-busting.”
Never the less, in early 2018 the focus of every level of government was on saving the Lock and Dam and repealing the legislation that sought its destruction.
But the Riverkeeper deftly elbowed respected Engineer Tom Robertson out of the way.
She informed the Commission she had worked hard to get the fish passage legislation passed because the “Lock and Dam is falling down” and she informed them they were “lucky” this project “showed up” Because it would “protect the pool for the very first time”
The Commission was also told the lock was in “imminent failure status” and that her Whitewater plan was “all about” getting the federal government to repair the lock as part of the fish passage project because if the lock was kept “they [would] have to be kept up by the city.”
Insiders indicate that not one of these selling points were true and the Commission’s rough treatment of McLaughlin may actually be evidence that they are now aware that they were misled and Tuesday’s commission meeting amounted to something of a slap down of Bonitatibus through the proxy of her chosen consultant, Rick McLaughlin.
And the Mayor’s emphatic, unsolicited pronouncement at the April 2nd Commission Meeting that “the Savannah Riverkeeper does not speak for the City of Augusta” seems to indicate the Bonitatibus’s personal ongoing role in this process is no longer wanted or even welcome.
To that point, Insiders question why in the world she continues meeting with the Corps and Georgia Ports Authority when it’s been obvious for months that her interests and those of Augusta are clearly miles apart.
She continues to advocate for a plan that runs contrary to Resolutions signed by government bodies in Augusta, North Augusta and Columbia County.
Additionally, it certainly seemed for all the world that this plan to wrap a 400 yard whitewater channel around the lock and dam seems sort of contrived or silly in comparison to the 5.200 foot facility McLaughlin installed in downtown Columbus Georgia which was spotlighted repeatedly in the runup to signing the contract with them.
The fact is, this plan for siting whitewater at the Lock and Dam truly jams a square peg into a round hole; whitewater could go anywhere along the river.
It seems reasonable that Augusta officials at the Commission meeting on Tuesday were fed up with hearing about Whitewater and they were hungry instead to hear about the deliverables that as of this writing still apparently have not been delivered to Augusta’s elected officials.
Put differently, they wanted to hear what their $100,000 plus consultant has been doing and what exactly has the Corps been saying about this lock and dam situation over the last nine or ten months?
Why are they losing right now?
Insiders indicate the Mayor’s righteous indignation—and the Commission’s apparent acquiescence to it—were clearly justified.