Insiders want Augusta to fire the Riverkeeper
Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus has millions of reasons to want Augusta’s Lock and Dam gone.
The Spirit has reported on the Riverkeeper’s 2013 Savannah Harbor Settlement on multiple occasions. The Settlement pays $12.5 million to a Board that will be headed by Bonitatibus if the Harbor dredging is completed.
But, as things currently stand, dredging can’t be completed—and the $12.5 million won’t be paid—if the dam isn’t removed.
Sure, sure, we get it… this money doesn’t pay out to the Riverkeeper directly. But we hope Bonitatibus will spare us all from insulting our collective intelligence with claims she and her organization don’t benefit in huge ways from this money and the decades worth of work it will entail—if the dam is removed and the dredging completed.
The 2013 settlement aside, Bonitatibus is the leader of an environmental organization whose parent organization (the Waterkeeper Alliance) is all about dam removals. In fact, just a few months ago, Bonitatibus was actually rewarded for her hard work to remove the Lock and Dam. She has been elevated to a leadership position at the Waterkeeper Alliance and she now serves alongside serial dam killers like Bobby Kennedy, Jr. and Dr. Gary Wockner.
See here for a video of Wockner explaining how Waterkeeper Alliance’s “Free Flowing Rivers” initiative “provide[s] support and services to local waterkeeper organizations that are protecting rivers and fighting dams.”
Have a look here for the scoop on Bonitatibus’ recent rise in the “free flowing rivers” ranks.
Given all this, Insiders are completely confused why Augusta continues to employ Bonitatibus’ services. Her seat at the negotiating table should be burned.
But instead, the Augusta Chronicle’s Sylvia Cooper reported this past Sunday Savannah Riverkeeper Executive Director Tonya Bonitatibus is still representing Augusta in this Lock and Dam deal and arranging meetings between Augusta, the Georgia Ports Authority and the Corps of Engineers.
The Riverkeeper’s goals are 180 degrees different from Augusta’s. Consider the fact that Augusta, Columbia County, Aiken County and North Augusta governments all passed resolutions and otherwise stood together in their demand that the dam be kept in place.
Insiders are also perplexed as to why Augusta continues to deliver up hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and prizes (for various services, pet projects and other perks) to Savannah Riverkeeper and its bank accounts.
Her numerous conflicts of interest aside, Insiders have provided mountains of evidence that Bonitatibus’ handle on these issues is actually quite shaky. Her strong suit is definitely in sales… not science.
And her marketing skills are at ninja level. If this Riverkeeper gig doesn’t work out we pity the poor stiffs who stumble onto her used RV lot looking for a deal. Ninja.
So, look, Augusta… real talk. We get it. The Riverkeeper has a special brand of aggressive self-serving cluelessness. Media outlets have relied on her for copy and quotes for years, back when it was all ‘removing debris from the river’ type feel good stories.
In January of 2019 the Metro Spirit published an article entitled “Could Augusta lose its chances at a Whitewater Park?” Before that, in February of 2018, we published a piece entitled “Augusta should spend $10,000 on a Whitewater Study.”
At that time, we reported with great annoyance that the Augusta Commission was hesitant to spend $10,000 on Whitewater because Congressman “Rick Allen [was] leading the charge to get the Lock and Dam reauthorized” and, as we reported, “Augusta commissioners seem[ed] leery about moving forward with a whitewater study if Allen has another proposal up his sleeve.”
In retrospect it is painfully obvious right now that Augusta should have ignored Bonitatibus and begged Rick Allen to see up the sleeve.
But it was so easy to buy what she was selling. She has a way of saying things so authoritatively you think to yourself, ‘she must know what she is talking about because no one would talk like this if they didn’t know what they were talking about.’
But she really doesn’t know what she’s talking about. This is her genius.
It appears Augusta media outlets could not resist the siren song wafting from the banks of the Savannah River. Enchanted, we believed her when she hustled us ashore to show us the whitewater snake oil she’d brewed up in the $1.00 per year, 14 acre compound Augusta provides to her rent free. metrospirit.com/the-riverkeepers-100-year-lease/).
Like Augusta, we were scared to death when she said the Lock and Dam was in “imminent failure status” and it could fall in the river at any moment. But we were reassured to learn her whitewater plan would make everything okay.
Her plan was going save the lock and it was meant to save our current pool levels at downtown Augusta as well. We were fired up when she told us the rock weir would save our communities so much money (yes, in case you missed it, the Riverkeeper is huge on fiscal responsibility) and we were very reassured when she said the rock weir was not a boondoggle at all. We were told there is a successful rock weir just like this one in North Carolina.
Folks were so desperate and enchanted they even forgot we lived in America. When she said the Lock and Dam is a lost cause, and nothing can be done to save it, we believed her. Even as recently as this past Monday, she told George Eskola the “dam is gone.”
And hopefully everyone has remembered by now that we do in fact live in America and laws can be written or amended to do damn near anything—including save our pool, our drinking water and all the other benefits the River has conferred to our area for hundreds of years.
Long distance dedication going out to the Riverkeeper and everyone who forgot how all this “Bill on Capitol Hill” stuff works.
And Bonitatitabus knows this. What did she do when she wanted a law that removed the Lock and Dam? She went to Washington and asked for it. Now Augusta should fire the Riverkeeper and hire someone to go to Washington to undo the law that even she now admits isn’t turning out like she planned.
But, as it turns out, only the February River drawdown and its aftermath could break the spell many Augustan’s were under in regards to the Riverkeeper.
Even the Corps now says they are “not expecting an imminent collapse” of the Lock and Dam and the Lock and Dam is rated as “Low Urgency.”
Bonitatibus is now admitting the River will drop by two feet. But the Corps is owning up to three feet; and the State of South Carolina and Augusta have both filed lawsuits revealing the ugly reality: the River will drop by over five feet with the rock weir.
At the end of the day, Bonitatibus pitched whitewater as a snake oil cure-all for the Lock and Dam crisis. A chorus of local stakeholders told the Commission this was ludicrous because the Corps wouldn’t pay any attention to whitewater.
They were right and Bonitatibus was wrong. The Corps brushed whitewater off like a fly and they have no intention at all of leaving us with a lock or access to the Atlantic Ocean.
And this rock weir is in fact a boondoggle because the North Carolina project the Riverkeeper kept selling has been a complete failure at passing sturgeon, or even bass.
This rock weir will cost more than double the project the Riverkeeper worked to eliminate. The kicker: none of this cost was ever going to be paid with local money. The feds and the state are on the hook for all of it. Just another crisis the Riverkeeper conjured.
By the time Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis realizing the snake oil wasn’t working in April, the drawdown was in the books so much damage was already done. Mayor Davis took a personal point of privilege around that time to say, “The Savannah Riverkeeper does not speak for the City of Augusta. The Savannah Riverkeeper does not speak for the City of Augusta. The Savannah Riverkeeper does not speak for the City of Augusta.”
But Insiders are concerned Bonitatibus gets what she wants because Augusta’s Utility Director Tom Wiedmeier serves as Secretary on the Savannah Riverkeeper Board. Wiedmeier was tasked with heading up Augusta’s Lock and Dam crisis management up until he and Mayor Davis fell out over the Riverkeeper’s oversized role in all this.
Regardless, here we have a person in Bonitatibus that is pretty clueless with regard to science or policy. She’s known to play fast and loose with reality and the facts. And she’s highly motivated for millions of reasons to remove the Lock and Dam.
The obvious result: Bonitatibus will apparently say and do anything to achieve a result completely at odds to the goals of Augusta, North Augusta, and Columbia and Aiken Counties. Our elected folks want to keep the dam but the Riverkeeper is fighting that for everything she’s worth.
Whether it’s incompetence or malice, it’s seems pretty clear Bonitatibus has sold us down the river. Letting the Riverkeeper run this initiative was a huge mistake.
The reality is the sooner we stop listening to the Riverkeeper and her friends at Georgia Ports Authority, the sooner we can come together to get to the real job of finding a solution that can undo this boondoggle with legislation. Thanks to the recent lawsuits, it’s still not too late.
But including the dam ninja in these discussions makes no sense. And it’s hard to imagine how walking into meetings she’s setting up can end positively either.
It’s time for Augusta to remove the Riverkeeper from the effort to Save the Lock.