Agency appeals order blocking Savannah River dam removal

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is appealing a federal court decision that says it can't demolish a dam on the Savannah River.

The Augusta Chronicle reports the agency gave notice this week that it would appeal a November decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel blocking the dam's removal.

Gergel ruled the Corps of Engineers had to follow a 2016 law that requires the river's water level be maintained at its current height after the state of South Carolina and city of Augusta sued in 2019.

The Corps of Engineers proposes to remove the New Savannah Bluff lock and dam, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Augusta, and replace it with a series of rock weirs that would allow fish to swim upstream. The agency argues it's requires to improve fish habitat as part of the plan to expand the harbor at Savannah, near the mouth of the river.

Governments, industries and private property owners who built property that depends on the elevated river level provided by the dam opposed the plan. The lawsuit came after the Corps formally decided to go ahead with the plan in October 2019. That followed a trial drawdown.

It’s unclear how the appeal will affect Gergel’s directive that the Corps of Engineers develop an alternative plan.

“The Fourth Circuit (Court of Appeals) now gets a chance to look at it. It’s not surprising the corps appealed it,” said Bob Pettit, mayor of North Augusta, South Carolina. “I’m not sure of the delay that would put in any decision.”

North Augusta had hoped to work with the Corps as it developed the alternative plan, but so far those conversations have not taken place, Pettit said.

“We want a solution and we were hoping to have dialogue with Corps about what we would be agreeable to before they started their process,” he said.

Pettit earlier said he would like to see Congress resume operational funding for the lock and dam, built in 1937.