Getting to a Solution

Our goal is to identify the most cost effective fish passage alternative. The final plan must fulfill the mitigation requirements of SHEP, the intent of Congress and addresses stakeholder and environmental concerns. The intent of Congress is expressed through the WIIN Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Corps’ Implementation Guidance.

To this end, we are following a Post-Authorization Analysis process used for Corps civil works projects across the country. The protocol we are following for the lock and dam is a nationally-approved, federal process used for all civil works projects. It includes a period of scoping, developing a wide range of alternatives using extensive modelling techniques and selecting the final array of “best solution” alternatives. The final array of alternatives are then used to complete a comparison analysis, select a draft recommended plan alternative and complete agency reviews. We will release a draft report for public review and comment, respond to these comments and then submit a report with the final recommendation to the South Atlantic Division commander for review and approval.

Each alternative in this Post-Authorization Analysis for the SHEP fish passage must meet these selection criteria:

  • Navigation – Maintain recreational navigation uses (in the pool and in the downstream river) that were in existence on Dec. 16, 2016, the date of the enactment of the WIIN Act. Neither commercial navigation nor a connection between the pool and the river downstream were in existence on Dec. 16, 2016. 

  • Water Supply – Maintain the ability to withdraw water from the pool for all water users who depended on the pool as a water supply source as of Dec. 16, 2016.

  • Recreation – In accordance with Corps implementation guidance, the analysis will identify and characterize recreational uses in the pool and in the river downstream of the lock and dam as of Dec. 16, 2016, in order to determine potential impacts to recreation and any possible needs for mitigation.

  • Cost – The analysis must consider the most cost-effective solution compared to the estimated cost to construct the original fish passage approved in WRDA 2014. This includes lowest average annualized cost (real estate, construction, operation and maintenance)

  • Timeline – constraints, such as risks associated with real estate acquisition could limit some alternatives due to the requirement to begin construction on this SHEP feature by January 2021.  

  • Fish Passage – All alternatives must facilitate the passing of shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, and other migratory fish in accordance with SHEP’s mitigation requirement 

  • Constraint of Flooding – This is included as a secondary criteria from Corps’ implementation guidance. If an alternative were to induce harmful flooding, the alternative must be screened from further consideration unless it can be modified to mitigate the harmful condition.

Launching the analysis

The District issued a public notice in April 2017 to inform stakeholders and natural resource agencies of the launch of this post-authorization analysis and requested input during the scoping phase. Scoping identifies the most important issues raised by the proposed action. This step determines the resources to be evaluated, ways to avoid or minimize impacts to the environment and identifying existing or additional data needed to better scope the analysis and potential high-level conflicts.

State and federal resource agencies were invited to participate in the planning effort as partner agencies or as technical members of the project team, when appropriate.  Agency coordination on the report included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries, FEMA, and the Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Natural Resources. We are also using the latest published fish passage design guidelines contained in the Federal Interagency Technical Memorandum, published on the USFWS site here. Through consultation with these agencies we determined that the in-stream passage offers the best opportunity to pass fish.  It appears that this plan is superior to the original plan to construct a fish passage circumventing the structure.

Members of the project team, throughout the analysis and alternative evaluation phase, will continue to ask how well each alternative fulfills the project’s mitigation goals and the requirements of the Implementation Guidance. For example, early in the process, the Corps determined that Lock and Dam removal was the most affordable solution to meet its mitigation requirements. However, with the 2001 legislation in place, removal of the structure was not an authorized alternative. The Corps then considered constructing a fish passage around the structure as mitigation for the shortnose sturgeon impacted by the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The fish passage would allow fish to circumvent the lock and dam structure. However, in December 2016 the passing of the Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation (WIIN) Act required a change to this approach. The WIIN Act provided authority for and directed the Corps to evaluate, design and build a fish passage that would either replace or modify the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam. The Act also deauthorized the Lock and Dam project as a structure to support commercial navigation.

Over the last year, we have conducted modeling of more than 30 alternatives. The modelling included the approved FEMA model for determining potential impacts to development from specific flood event levels.  By eliminating alternatives that demonstrated an unacceptable risk of flooding, as well as those that would not maintain pool levels sufficient for water supply and recreation, we narrowed the list down to eight alternatives, and then one as the recommended plan, announced in November 2018. Modeling indicates that the water elevations of the recommended plan would minimize impacts to industrial and municipal users.

Next steps

We are scheduled to prepare a draft report that outlines the final alternatives. The report will also identify our proposed solution – what we call the “Draft Recommended Plan.” We anticipate public review February 2019 and the draft Plan will be available for review on this website. After consideration of public input, we will provide a recommended solution in the summer of 2019 to the South Atlantic Division commander, who has authority to approve this analysis delegated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. We expect construction of the approved plan to begin in January 2021.