New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam - The Complexities of Deciding the Future of an Old Structure
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The New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam is managed by the Savannah District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Since commercial navigation hasn't used the lock since 1979, the Lock and Dam hasn't served its authorized purpose for over twenty years. The Corps is obligated to reduce its maintenance costs whenever it can, so it recently conducted a study to determine what should be done with this aging and deteriorating structure. As it evaluated the functions that the structure presently provides, the picture became more complicated. Industries now use the upstream pool as a source of water for their operations. Private residences line the shore of the upper pool, attracted by the waterfront view. Local governments have similarly placed public developments along portions of the shore. The community holds annual speedboat races on the stable pool, bringing visitors and their dollars to local businesses. On the environmental side, the higher stable water surface in the pool now supports wetlands along the shore where they didn't exist before. The landside portion of the dam is highly used by fishermen. The area immediately upstream and downstream of the dam regularly attracts fishermen in boats, when no other boaters can be seen fishing that reach of the river. Regulatory discharge permits have been issued based on the pool being there. Yet removal of the structure would provide substantial benefits to fisheries by removing an impediment to migratory pathways and restoring the free-flowing character of a piedmont river. What initially appeared to be an easy decision — What to do with an old, deteriorating, structure that is a financial burden and no longer serves its authorized purpose — quickly became complicated. Savannah District struggled through its evaluation and sent its recommendation for removal of the structure to its higher headquarters for ultimate submission to the U.S. Congress. However, before Congress received the report, they authorized the Corps to rehabilitate the structure and add a fish passage feature, all at full Federal expense, and then transfer the structure to a local government. Will Congress fund these actions? Stay tuned...