The nature of the unlikely romance between the city of Augusta and Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus was ratcheted up recently with an interesting post making the rounds on Facebook.
The post provided an email reportedly obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The email, posted by local community advocate Brad Owens, makes clear Bonitatibus was working for Augusta on the lock and dam issue in 2018.
It’s obvious from this email Bonitatibus was representing Augusta in meetings with the Army Corps and Georgia Ports Authority and then reporting back to Augusta officials and her chosen whitewater designer, Rick McLaughlin, of Colorado-based McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group.
The contents of the email are actually kind of shocking.
In the email, Bonitatibus reports that “the current plans [the Corps is] planning on releasing Nov 15th drop the river on average 3ft. 2” which is “going to make the public upset.”
But oddly, despite the terrible news, Bonitatibus went on to write.
“I get every feeling that the Corps continues to be friendly, and that the perfect track has indeed been laid, just seems like now is the time to start warming the engines and get ready to take off down the track ;).”Tonya Bonitatibus
The Corps was “going to make the public upset” because it was “planning to drop the river on average” over three feet.
But “[t]he Corps continues to be friendly,” and “the perfect track has indeed been laid.”
This is what she gathered from meetings with the Corps and Georgia Ports Authority on behalf of Augusta, its residents and the taxpayers.
City Inspectors visit SRK Headquarters
Inspectors with the City of Augusta paid a visit to the Savannah Riverkeeper’s headquarters on December 13.
Augusta is signed up to lease a million dollar 14 acre downtown riverfront property to the Savannah Riverkeeper for $1 per year for 100 years.
The property includes a 15,000 square foot building.
Apparently these highly favorable lease terms require the Riverkeeper to make a number of improvements, very few of which have actually been completed over the five and a half years since the lease was signed.
Think disc golf courses, museums, sewage-sniffing dog training facilities, solar demonstrations and the like.
When Augusta inspectors descended on the leased facility on December 13, their focus was apparently on whether “homeless” people were living there.
According to sources, Augusta inspectors were told no one resides at the facility, but some Riverkeeper employees do show up around midnight and work through the night.
Right. If you believe that we’ve got a whitewater attraction with zip lines and a “protected pool” to sell you.
Residential use by Riverkeeper “employees” would constitute a liability to Augusta and its taxpayers and also a violation of zoning regulations and the terms of the lease itself.
On May 17 of last year, former Richmond County Commissioner Moses Todd addressed the Richmond County Commission, stating Augusta should “review [its] relationship with the Savannah Riverkeepers” and it “appear[ed] that our priorities as far as saving the Lock and Dam, it’s not the same as the Augusta Riverkeeper’s priorities.”
Todd warned the Riverkeeper’s involvement in Augusta governance was a bad idea.
According to the Augusta website, Todd is scheduled to give the Commission another Riverkeeeper-related piece his mind at its meeting this coming Wednesday, January 8.