The future of the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam may hinge on the outcome of proposed legislation that would convey responsibility of the structure from the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to local governmental control.
During a July 15 meeting of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, an amendment that would have conveyed responsibility of the structure to Aiken County and the cities of North Augusta and Augusta was introduced by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall of Georgia but was later withdrawn.
The amendment is not completely off the table, though, and may be brought before Congress when the funding bill is on the Congress floor.
A July 17 filing in a lawsuit related to the Lock and Dam references the proposed legislation and asks that the court grant a stay of all proceedings in the suit until Oct. 1. The stay was granted July 20 by Judge Richard M. Gergel.
The filing states that South Carolina, Augusta and the Georgia Ports Authority have been "actively engaged" with the South Carolina and Georgia legislative delegations for the past several months regarding the proposed legislation.
Woodall's withdrawn amendment would have conveyed the Lock and Dam to the local governments, as well as $53 million in federal funds.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project with constructing a fish passage to allow shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon to pass upstream to Augusta Shoals.
The Corps announced in October 2019 its plan, which would include
the removal of the Lock and Dam structure and the construction of a rock weir.
The lawsuit was filed by the state of South Carolina to prevent the removal of the Lock and Dam, citing that the Corps' plan would lower the height of the river pool.
Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker said he supports the Lock and Dam being given to local governments.
"I think the legislation is a very intriguing idea. Aiken County with North Augusta and with the city of Augusta are in a consortium and I understand that there are efforts on Capitol Hill to make this legislation come through," Bunker said.
"As in many cases with federal legislation, at the risk of using a trite saying, the devil is in the details, and we certainly want to make sure that whatever comes out of the legislation meets the needs of our communities, in particular the full funding of the proposed legislation would have to come through."
Bunker also stressed that if local control can be restored over the Lock and Dam, he would rather see "our com munities pilot our destiny and not the folks in Washington, D.C."
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson stated he is hopeful the legislation will become law in the near future.
"As long as the Army Corps of Engineers refuses to follow the appropriate interpretation of the law, which clearly calls for a 114.5-foot pool, I will continue working with my Georgia and South Carolina counterparts in Congress to save the Lock and Dam and the North Augusta Riverfront community. I am hopeful that the legislative language that would save the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam that we have been working on will become law in the near future, as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020," Wilson said.
A statement from U.S. Rep. Rick Allen of Georgia states he is optimistic about the legislation.
"Due to the Corps' refusal to do the will of the people, the only way we could maintain the pool level and accommodate fish mitigation required us going back to the drawing board and working on legislation. Thanks to support from local stakeholders and several of my colleagues in both the Georgia and South Carolina delegations, legislative language is currently under consideration and I'm optimistic about it becoming law when Congress votes on the final WRDA bill later this year," Allen said.
The recently filed motion to stay states that "the parties believe that this proposed federal legislation may effectively resolve the pending litigation."
A stipulation to the motion was also filed regarding a future site visit by the parties.
"However, because the proposed federal legislation includes transfer of the NSBLD to local government entities (or their singular designee) and the reallocation of funds, South Carolina, Augusta and GPA must understand the cost of rehabilitating, repairing, operating and maintaining the NSBLD to ensure the feasibility of the NSBLD being owned, operated and/or maintained by local government entities."
The visit is "intended to assist" the local government in estimating those costs.
The City of Augusta Commission passed a resolution in support of the legislation. North Augusta City Council on Monday evening unanimously approved a resolution in support of the proposed legislation.
In order to get the Meriwether Monument removed, it will have to be taken up with the General Assembly, according to an opinion from the state Attorney General's office.
The office released its opinion on the Meriwether Monument on Tuesday, calling the monument "an abhorrent testament to Jim Crow" and "a grossly inaccurate account of the Hamburg Massacre."
The office recounts that the monument was erected by a Joint Resolution of the General Assembly and that North Augusta must seek relief from the General Assembly to "repeal or modify the laws erecting" the monument.
The city sought an opinion from the office regarding the applicability of the monument to the state's Heritage Act. North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit said Tuesday that City Council
has not had discussions to determine the next steps to take regarding the monument.
The office states in the opinion it has no authority to determine whether the Heritage Act is applicable in this case.
"We cannot imagine the General Assembly intended to protect such a racist symbol when it enacted the Heritage Act," the opinion says, adding the Attorney General cannot serve as judge and jury as to the applicability of the act to the hundreds of monuments and memorials in the state.
Brandy Mitchell is an organizer with Unify: North Augusta, which has been calling for the removal of the monument for months.
Mitchell mentioned a lawsuit against the state regarding the Heritage Act by Jennifer Pinckney, the wife of the late Rev. Clementa Pinckney who was killed in the 2015 Emanuel AME shooting in Charleston.
A post to Unify: North Augusta's Facebook page states Mitchell has been in contact with the lawyer and plaintiffs in the case.
"I stand with Mrs. Pinckney on this issue," she said.
The Meriwether Monument memorializes Thomas McKie Meriwether, the one white man who died in the July 1876 Hamburg Massacre. Eight black men also died during the massacre, and their names are not included anywhere in Calhoun Park.
The opinion from the Attorney General's office says the massacre "became a key catalyst and rallying point for a resurgence of white supremacy in South Carolina that opposed Reconstruction and ultimately succeeded in a political takeover."
The opinion discusses the Heritage Act's language that no street, bridge, structure, park, preserve, resource or other public area of the state or any political subdivisions named for a public figure or event may be renamed or rededicated.
"We are not aware of any public accomplishments of Thomas Meriwether or any notable distinctions of the kind that are generally considered historically significant, apart from having been killed while participating in the massacre," the opinion states.
The opinion does say that, without question, the Hamburg Massacre is a historic event.
The inscription on the monument is much of the cause of ire related to the monument. It refers to the "supremacy" of the "highest ideal of Anglo-Saxon civilization," for example.
"We cannot imagine that the General Assembly intended the Heritage Act to protect such obviously hateful testament to the racial practices of the past as this Monument is," the opinion says.
Mitchell said she implores Council to look at the opinion and consider what the state is saying.
"If the state is saying that this monument is not a reflection of who we are as South Carolinians today, then we don't need to be putting anything around it, we don't need to be putting any markers or anything next to it, this marker needs to come down," she said.
AUGUSTA — For t Gordon marked a milestone Friday morning – one with strong implications for the future of North Augusta.
Col. Jim Clifford, who has spent the past two years as the Army installation's garrison commander, was honored in a change of command ceremony, as was his successor, Col. Shaw Pick. Clifford has been selected to be North Augusta's next city administrator – a role that he is to assume formally Aug. 17.
His family includes his wife, Hannah, and their children: Abby, 8, preparing for third grade; and Jimmy, 10, preparing for fifth grade, and the whole crew was on hand for Friday's assembly.
Maj. Gen. Neil Hersey, commanding general of the Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon, pointed out that a garrison commander is "really the de facto mayor of the installation," juggling a variety of tasks and receiving plenty of unsolicited advice on how to handle them.
Referring to Clifford, Hersey recalled repeated incidents of having seen the outgoing garrison commander's "level-headed professionalism and sense of humor keep the installation safe while very often defusing tension."
Clifford expressed thanks to Bob Pettit, North Augusta's mayor, and also to the members of North Augusta City Council, for the chance to serve in a new role.
He also referred to the two people who have served most recently as
North Augusta's city administrators, saying, "I know I'll have big shoes to fill, behind Todd Glover and Rachelle Moody, but I'll do my best. It's a great feeling not to run from the Army, but run towards something in the next chapter of my professional life."
Hersey credited Clifford with having been a central component in Fort Gordon's transformation, including the detailed planning, execution, management and oversight for the modernization of more than $2 billion in facilities and infrastructure.
Pick, a native of Kirkland, Washington, has a background that includes four tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He is a 1993 graduate of the University of Washington, and he and his wife, the former Stacy Felker, of Enumclaw, Washington, have three children. He was commissioned as an Army Signal Corps officer in 1997 and began his career as a paratrooper at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Pick, in his Friday remarks, expressed thanks to "Team Clifford." He added, "Jim and Hannah, Stacy and I appreciate the way you embraced us as we prepared for this job. It is clear that you put everything into this job during an extremely difficult time. Jim, this installation and the wider CSRA community are better for having had your cool head and steady hand at the helm these past two years."
Clifford noted that his time at Fort Gordon began and ended on dates that are easy to remember. "I took command on the 17th of July in 2018, on my 47th birthday, and I'm giving it up on my 49th birthday, here in 2020."
Friday's activities also included a high honor for Hannah Clifford, as she received an honor from the Signal Corps Regimental Association. She was awarded the Bronze Wahatchee Award, which recognizes "those select individuals who have demonstrated the high standards of integrity, moral character, professional competence and selflessness, and who have contributed in a volunteer capacity to the promotion of the United States Army Signal Regiment," as noted on the certificate.
Hersey, the commanding general, was among those speaking to Friday's gathering. "Your professionalism and unwavering ability to team together in the face of challenge and adversity has been absolutely apparently in these past couple of months. Our nation is facing a unique challenge today – multiple challenges – while many hit home right here at Fort Gordon," he said.
Hersey described the outgoing garrison commander as having had abundant "opportunities to grow" in recent months, and credited him with providing "thoughtful, positive leadership" in the process.
Clifford's honors on Friday also included receiving the Legion of Merit, described in Military Times as being for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service to the United States."
The general, referring to Clifford and looking to the years ahead, said, "We know you will serve the City of North Augusta proudly, and they are fortunate to have you as part of their team."
Four of the Aiken County School Board's nine seats are up for election, and all of them are set to see a contested race this November.
Filing for Districts 1, 4, 8 and 9 ended at noon Monday. Each district has two candidates running for school board, with all the board's current representatives filing for reelection.
In District 4, which covers North Augusta, current board chair Keith Liner and Patricia Hanks have filed for election.
"I guess I'm just excited to be part of the district and want to continue helping us progress with student achievement and our building projects," Liner said. "I'm excited about the direction we're headed in."
Hanks has lived in North Augusta with her family for 25 years. All three of her children attended public schools in the area.
"I just love the community," Hanks said. "I am now in retirement though, so I thought, this is the perfect time. I am at a point where I am fully available to work with teachers and the community as a whole ... I am so excited to put my hat in the ring."
In District 1, which covers much of Wagener, Sandra Shealey and Samuretta Muldrow have filed.
Shealey, the incumbent, said she feels "responsible" for fostering positive experiences in the local public school system by which her son received his education.
"It's an honor to work with the community and the school board," Shealey said. "I feel like there's a lot of things left for us to do ... and I feel like my experience and knowledge will help with that."
Muldrow said that her experience as a native would make her a good choice for the Wagener-area seat.
"This is my community," Muldrow said. "I was born and reared here, I worked in the (school) system as well. I just want to be of service to my community."
In District 9, Anthony James and Cameron Nuessle – who currently holds the board seat – have filed for the Aiken-area seat.
"I decided to run because I try to stay involved in children's issues," James said. "I came from a school where teachers would tell students that you'll never amount to anything. Your best bet is to end up in jail."
James said he graduated from The Citadel and wore his uniform in schools to encourage children to graduate.
"I've been in service in one way or another," James said. "I've been in the military for almost 20 years now. I feel and believe that children are our future, and I believe we should do everything to support them."
Nuessle won the District 9 seat in a special election at the end of last year.
"I am running for school board for the same reasons as I successfully did last year," Nuessle said. "I want to provide a safe place for students to learn. I want our educators to be valued. I want parents to have a voice and be informed.
"My family has long been invested in our public schools and my children will attend public high school this year. I want to see the best outcomes for my children and all the children of Aiken County."
In District 8, current board member Dr. John Bradley and the Rev. Dr. Douglas Slaughter, who is a pastor at Second Baptist Church, have both filed for the seat that also represents Aiken.
"I feel like with my experience and background – I feel like I just have something to offer," said Bradley, a former board chairman who won a special election last year. "I think that the school district is going through an unparalleled time of crisis, actually. I just felt called to do it."
Slaughter said he primarily wants to run for school board so he can help children impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
"I really care about our kids," Slaughter said. "I think that every child counts and leadership makes all the difference in the world. I've been working with kids in the schools and in the community for about 30 years now. I think with COVID-19 ... that leadership on the board is really important, and I want to help."