Since we announced the recommended plan of Alternative 2-6d that would replace the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam with a fixed weir, many in the Augusta area have expressed interest in a different alternative, namely Alternative 1-1.
The Alt 1-1 design retains part of the current lock and dam with the fish passage moved partially out of the channel and onto the Georgia side of the river. We have received a number of inquiries on the cost of Alt 1-1, specifically compared to the recommended plan Alt 2-6d.
In order to provide more clarity to the public about the differences in cost, we requested a certified cost from our center of expertise and initiated consultation with NOAA Fisheries for Alt 1-1.
The feedback we received from the certified cost estimate confirmed Alt 1-1 costs more to operate and maintain than Alt 2-6d and, upon consultation with NOAA Fisheries the design is less likely to successfully pass fish.
The draft cost estimates for Alt 1-1 is more than twice the amount when compared with the recommended plan (Alt 2-6d) as shown in the below table below.
In accordance with our engineer regulations, the estimate is provided as a project first cost; that is, the full amount over time if one were to pay for everything up front in the current fiscal year.
The construction, real estate and major rehabilitation are shown in the dollar amounts expected if the entire option were paid for all at once in cash today. The operation and maintenance equate to the value of the effort in today’s dollar value if this project is completed over the next 100 years with an estimated wage growth, using the government labor estimate.
It helps to understand that the construction cost for the entire Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is shared with Georgia as the non-federal sponsor: 75 percent federal, 25 percent non-federal.
Based on the WIIN Act changes for the lock and dam, the federal cost share of the SHEP Fish Passage feature is limited to 75 percent of the original SHEP Fish Passage authorized in 2014, which is currently estimated at $62,673,000.
Alt 1-1 was not selected as the federal plan. Therefore, any possibility to implement Alt 1-1 would require the non-federal sponsors, Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), to request a Locally Preferred Plan (LPP).
Under the cost-sharing requirements for a LPP, the non-federal sponsor is required to pay the difference in cost between the federal plan and the LPP alternative if the LPP is more costly than the federal plan.
Also, the locally preferred plan’s ability to adequately pass endangered fish must be similar to the ability of the federal plan. Therefore, NOAA Fisheries consultation needs to provide assurance of equal benefits.
To date, our discussions with NOAA Fisheries indicate that the fish passing efficacy of Alt 1-1 is expected to be less than the ability of the 2-6d design. For this reason, we eliminated Alt 1-1 from further consideration.
The simulation exercise and the public comments are adding to our knowledge on the project as we continue to move forward with the mandate to begin construction by January 2021.
We are open to conversations with our non-federal sponsors and our water policy experts on other alternatives that would provide water surface elevations similar to Alt 1-1, but that include a full-river fish passage and weir.
Any alternative will require dedicated, cooperative and timely engagement with our non-federal sponsors to address all cost and real estate issues, which may occur with alternatives other than Alt 2-6d.
We remain committed to meeting the schedule as outlined in the NOAA-issued Biological Opinion, which requires start of construction by January 2021.
~ Russell Wicke, Corporate Communications Office