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Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 12:33pm

Proposed Dam Demolition Draws Opposition

The New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam was built in the 1930s to create a deepwater area for barges transporting oil and timber to Augusta.

Although it's no longer used for that purpose, the dam faces demolition for another reason -- the endangered short-nosed sturgeon.

Deepening the Savannah Harbor downstream would damage the fish's ability to migrate. Recently the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service suggested getting rid of the dam would open migration routes.

But destroying the dam would also lower water levels along Augusta’s riverfront, which U.S. Congressman Paul Broun says would be bad for the local economy.

"Destroying the dam would hurt the economic growth and the development for decades so it’s absolutely critical that we keep the dam in place," says Broun.

Another option is installing a tunnel to let fish pass around the dam to their spawning grounds upstream.

But Tonya Bonitatibus with Savannah Riverkeeper says that might not be enough to protect the sturgeon.

"It’s completely unknown technology and there aren’t any sturgeon scientists that say this thing is going to work--in fact they’re all saying it’s not going to work," Bonitatibus says.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the dam, is trying to transfer it to the city of Augusta.

Congress gave the Army Corps a mandate to repair the dam but never funded construction.