The fate of the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, as seen here July 20, remains a hot political topics, with economics, conservation, recreation and flood control among concerns that have been raised in the ongoing discussion. The facility is near Augusta Regional Airport and has its South Carolina end in Beech Island.

Rep. Rick Allen, a Georgia Republican, spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last week as part of a push for legislation related to the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a project that would remove the 83-year-old structure and replace it with a rock weir to allow for fish passage, but that plan has received backlash – even leading to a lawsuit – because it will likely lower the average height of the river. 

A release from Allen’s office states he spoke “expressing disappointment that the Water Resources Development Act was brought forward for a vote without a chance to amend the legislation.”

Speaking on the House floor, he said: “I urge the committee to work with me to include legislation in the final bill that will repair and maintain the lock and dam and the pool, while still accommodating the mitigation project.”

The U.S. House passed the act on Wednesday, July 29, and the act has been received in the U.S. Senate.

Fourteen members of the Georgia legislative delegation, including Allen and both senators from Georgia, sent a letter regarding the legislation to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“As we look toward final consideration of the 2020 Water Resources Development Act, we urge you to include consensus language in the final bill regarding the mitigation feature related to the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project at or below the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam that will maintain the pool of water currently serving the Augusta, Georgia, and North Augusta, South Carolina, communities,” the letter states.

The Corps of Engineers has been tasked with constructing a fish passage at the Lock and Dam as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The Corps announced its chosen plan in October 2019, which would include the removal of the Lock and Dam. A 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. A motion to stay was recently granted in the lawsuit because of proposed legislation.

On July 15, an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 – which would have conveyed responsibility of the Lock and Dam to Aiken County and the cities of North Augusta and Augusta – was introduced in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by Rep. Rob Woodall, a Georgia Republican. The amendment was withdrawn almost immediately.

All three local government entities have expressed support for the legislation.

A resolution passed by North Augusta City Council states that “North Augusta’s desire to ensure that the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam and its associated park, impoundment and amenities are available for future generations is shared by the governments and citizens of the State of South Carolina; Aiken County, South Carolina; and Augusta, Georgia.”

Follow Lindsey on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges. Subscribing to the Aiken Standard will give you access to all the Aiken County news your need. Click here to sign up. 

Lindsey is the North Augusta reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. She graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2017, and grew up in Hodges, SC.