South Carolina’s Attorney General Alan Wilson weighed in on the fight over the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, saying the state will go to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Wilson spoke Thursday as the guest speaker of the Aiken County Republican Party, which held its meeting at Rosemary Inn in North Augusta.
In November 2019, Wilson filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal defendants regarding the lock and dam, and the Corps’ proposed plan to remove the structure and replace it with a rock weir.
“We have a hearing coming up, I think in April or May, and your delegation, your senators, house members are on top of this. Your congressman’s on top of it. But I can tell you right now, in our office, it’s 114.5 or bust,” Wilson said.
The lawsuit states the Savannah River pool level must be maintained at 114.5 feet, citing the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, and states the Corps’ plan, known as alternative 2-6d, doesn’t comply with the WIIN Act.
The Corps maintained in a February court filing that its interpretation of the WIIN Act is reasonable.
“The Corps … has interpreted the statute to require that, in constructing the fish passage, it must maintain the pool level so that certain specified activities (water supply and recreation) can continue to occur as they occurred at the time of enactment – in other words, it must maintain the pool's ‘functionality,’” the filing states.
Wilson said he is "guardedly optimistic" about the case.
“We’ve got a framework right now that we’re working out with the Army Corps of Engineers. We’re talking to our friends on the other side of the river; there seems to be a coalition going on here,” Wilson said.
“One way or the other, we’re going to try to negotiate a settlement, or we’re gonna – we’ll go to the Supreme Court if we have to. We’ll go as far as we possibly can, but we’re not going down without a fight.”
Wilson responded to a question from a member of the audience about whether retaining the lock and dam structure is part of the fight.
"Yes," he said, "it has to be a lock and dam."
The Corps of Engineers has been tasked by the federal government to find an alternative to the lock and dam, which has been deauthorized, that mitigates the effects of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project on sturgeon, and allows the fish to travel upstream to historic spawning grounds.
Wilson’s remarks at the event also included mention of human trafficking, and the process of the impeachment of President Donald Trump.