Congressman Allen Testifies on New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam

Congressman Rick W. Allen (GA-12) participated in the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee’s Member Day Hearing to highlight water issues that are critical to the 12th District of Georgia, namely the consistent issues experienced with the Corps of Engineers regarding the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam.

Congressman Allen delivered the following testimony at today’s hearing:

“Thank you, [acting] Chairman James and Ranking Member Larson for the opportunity to provide this testimony and highlight priorities for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that are critical to the 12th District of Georgia, namely the consistent issues we have experienced with the Corps of Engineers regarding the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, or in short, the Lock and Dam.

“Many of you probably recall that I have testified before this committee in years past multiple times, which should only underscore the importance of the Lock and Dam to the residents of my district and the city of Augusta. I want to thank Congressman Mike Collins for raising this issue in a T&I hearing in June, with the Corps of Engineers, and would also like to thank Congressman Hank Johnson for being a willing partner on this issue in the past as well.

“Due to environmental mitigation from the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, or SHEP, the Corps is responsible for constructing a mitigation feature that would allow sturgeon and other endangered fish to access new spawning grounds. Dating back to the 1930s, the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam was originally authorized for navigation purposes, but after it was no longer used for commercial navigation, many of the Central Savannah River Area’s largest job creators and municipalities continue to draw from the pool that the Lock and Dam was designed to maintain.

“In the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation, or WIIN, Act, the language required the fish passage structure to ‘maintain the pool for navigation, water supply, and recreational activities, as in existence on the date of enactment of this Act.’ The Corps selected a rock weir as an alternative to replace the Lock and Dam, which I strongly opposed as it would drop the pool level far below the needs of the community. Lowering the pool does not meet the requirements in the WIIN Act and is unacceptable, in addition to possible flooding downstream.

“In a disastrous simulation carried out by the Corps, we saw firsthand the dreadful impacts of the lower water level that would result from the installation of a rock weir. We saw marooned boats and docks on the ground, excess debris, mudflats, the river banks caving in, and these businesses not able to draw the water they need and the cities not able to draw the water they need to manufacture their products and to provide for their citizens. To my relief, the United States District Court of South Carolina ruled against the Corps’ proposed plan to remove the Lock and Dam in favor of the rock weir. However, the appeals court remanded the case back to the district court for further action, placing us back in legal limbo…

“Throughout this tenuous process, Congressman Joe Wilson and I have worked closely with local community leaders and stakeholders who have all agreed that maintaining the water level of the pool above the Lock and Dam is critical, so our water users are not affected. The Cities of Augusta and North Augusta, as well as Richmond and Aiken Counties, have come together supporting resolutions to protect the Lock and Dam and maintain the pool at the level of 114.5 feet.

“If the committee takes anything away from my testimony today it should be this: the Corps is not in compliance with the WIIN Act law by choosing an alternative that does not maintain the pool at the 114.5 level as it was in December of 2016 when the law was enacted, despite repeated bicameral reiterations of Congressional intent.

“I urge the committee to work with me to include language that will repair and maintain the Lock and Dam and keep the pool level that our community desperately needs, while still accommodating the fish passage required by SHEP.

“I would also like to flag for the committee another WRDA priority of mine. I am seeking a new feasibility study authorization, or a modification to an existing study authorization, to examine the benefit of further widening and deepening the harbor at the Port of Savannah to better accommodate today’s commercial demands and to prepare for meeting tomorrow’s trade needs.

“Thank you again to the committee for holding this member day and I look forward to continuing to work with you on this issue.”

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