Two Choices for the Savannah River

The New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam has been a Savannah River fixture since 1937.

The state of South Carolina has filed a lawsuit related to the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, according to a press release from the South Carolina Attorney General's office.

"The State filed a lawsuit against the Corps to prevent it from tearing down the historic New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam (NSBLD) and replacing it with another structure that would result in the lowering of the water level by over five feet," the release says.

The new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday, Oct. 29 its decision to build a rock weir in the place of the Lock and Dam as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project fish passage.

The rock weir, known as Alternative 2-6d, would lower the average height of the river by around 2 feet, according to a press release from the Corps. Alternative 2-6d will also include the removal of the Lock and Dam structure. 

"In advocating for its proposed plan, the Corps ignored Federal and State law and input from U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, Congressman Joe Wilson, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, State Senator Tom Young, State Representative Bill Hixon, and numerous local elected officials who had expressed doubts and concerns about the Corps’ proposed project," the release from the Attorney General says.

North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit announced the suit Monday night to North Augusta City Council during their study session.

"From the beginning of the discussions about the mitigation required by the deepening of the Savannah Harbor and the provisions of the WIIN Act of 1916, I have maintained the key issue is the intent of Congress when it passed the WIIN Act which states: '…maintain the pool for navigation, water supply, and recreational activities, as in existence on the date of enactment of this Act…'" Pettit said.

"The Corps' interpretation and the interpretation of the opponents of the Corps' plan differ. The only way to settle that is via the court system. I have not yet read the South Carolina lawsuit, so I am unable to ascertain the basis for the action. I am hopeful maintenance of the river pool level is one of the issues at question.

"I am hopeful the courts decide the intent of Congress was that the pool elevation be maintained as it was on December 16, 2016. That elevation is nominally 114.5 feet. If the court rules that Congress' intent was the plain language interpretation, then the decision by the Corps of Engineers will have to be revisited since Alternative 2-6d lowers the elevation of the pool," Pettit said.

The city of North Augusta, as well as Aiken County, have supported a different alternative, Option 1-1, which would have retained the dam structure with fish passage on the Georgia side of the river.

“The Savannah River is a lifeline to many families and businesses. The action filed in Federal District Court today seeks to protect the rule of law and the integrity of South Carolina’s environment and permitting process from the capricious decision of an overzealous federal agency that ignores the State and harms its citizens,” Attorney General Wilson said in the release.  

Wilson filed the release on behalf of the State of South Carolina, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and Savannah River Maritime Commission.

The Corps has announced its plans to hold a public engagement session on Wednesday, Nov. 13 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Boathouse Community Center at 101 Riverfront Drive in Augusta. The release states the public will hear details about the decision during the event.

Lindsey Hodges is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. Follow her on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges.