Tide gate removal pushes SHEP closer to completion

The tide gate structure in 2016 (above) and in December 2017 following its removal.

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The removal of a 1970s-era structure from the Savannah River’s Back River marks another major milestone in the deepening of the nation’s fourth busiest container port. It also returns the Back River to its natural width to enhance the area for fish habitat.

Removal of the tide gates on the Back River is the latest mitigation feature to be completed for the massive improvement of the Savannah harbor. The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) will deepen the harbor and entrance channel from 42 feet to 47 feet, allowing larger neo-Panamax container ships to enter the harbor with fewer tidal restrictions.

“By removing the tide gates we restored the Back River to its natural state,” Spencer Davis, project manager for the SHEP, said. “This is the first part of the flow re-routing measures in the SHEP, designed to protect freshwater marshes in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge from saltwater intrusion.”

While removing the tide gates, workers recycled some of the concrete by placing it in the Back River to enhance fish habitat. The wider channel also slows river flow which also enhances fish habitat, according to Davis.

The tide gates, installed in the early 1970s, closed with each ebb tide forcing more river water through the front river along the Savannah city front. This increased velocity forced sediments away from that area into one more easily dredged, thus saving on expensive channel dredging.

However, through the years of their use, the tide gates began to change upstream freshwater marshes in the refuge to saltwater marshes. The negative environmental impacts outweighed the benefits of lower dredging costs and the gates were taken out of service. The gates’ support structure and the narrowed channel remained until removal in December 2017.

The $21.3 million project, performed by the Miami-based DeMoya / Continental Joint Venture, came in $900,000 under budget and on-schedule, moving the deepening of the harbor another major step forward, according to Davis.

Workers removed more than 3,200 tons of concrete and more than 650,000 cubic yards of soil and placed approximately 130,000 tons of rock along the 3,000 feet of shoreline in both Georgia and South Carolina.


(Video: Tide gate / sediment basin work from March 2017.)

The SHEP involves significant environmental mitigation features, with many nearing completion.

These include a dissolved oxygen injection system that will supply oxygen to the harbor in hotter months, a raw water storage impoundment that will provide additional freshwater storage for the city of Savannah, and the remaining features of work on the flow re-routing of the Savannah River adjacent to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.

Removal and relocation of the Civil War ironclad the CSS Georgia and raising containment area dikes, which wrapped up in the summer of 2017, marked SHEP’s first completed portions. Completion of the dissolved oxygen injection system and the raw water storage impoundment will follow in the first half of this year.

“The tide gate removal again demonstrates the extraordinary dedication the Corps of Engineers has for the environment while striving to enhance America’s economic strength,” said Erik Blechinger, deputy district engineer for Programs and Project Management.

The SHEP is funded jointly between the state of Georgia and the U.S. government. The current schedule estimates the project will be complete in 2022.

~ Billy Birdwell, Corporate Communications Office

About US Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District oversees a multimillion dollar military construction program at 11 Army and Air Force installations in Georgia and North Carolina. We also manage water resources across the Coastal Georgia region, including maintenance dredging of the Savannah and Brunswick harbors; operation of three hydroelectric dams and reservoirs along the upper Savannah River; and administration of an extensive stream and wetland permitting and mitigation program within the state of Georgia. Follow us on Twitter @SavannahCorps and on Facebook.com/SavannahCorps
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12 Responses to Tide gate removal pushes SHEP closer to completion

  1. Elisabeth White Putnam says:

    Why do the Corps let the lakes down so low in the winter months? With the poor lake level management by the Corps, they can’t recover for the warmer months when the lakes are predominately used! This poor management is literally killing all three lakes for any economic development. There was a horrific crash with the lose of two great men on Lake Thurmond that the lake level greatly contributed! Your response is greatly appreciated ! Thanks

    • US Army Corps of Engineers says:

      Ma’am,
      Thank you for commenting. We normally draw down our reservoirs in the winter to give water managers more flexibility with winter and spring rains, which have higher rates of runoff due to lower rates of transpiration and evaporation.

      We actually did not draw any of the reservoirs down this year because we are still recovering from the drought that began in early 2016.

      All of these water management actions are made using the latest science-based studies that take into consideration everything from hydropower to recreation to environmental, commercial and public needs related to this precious resource.
      ~ Jeremy Buddemeier

  2. William Sims says:

    I find it interesting and amusing that the Corps promotes Lake Hartwell on their website as, and I quote:

    “Hartwell Lake is one of the southeast’s largest and most popular public recreation lakes. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1955 and 1963, the authorized purposes are flood risk management, water quality, water supply, downstream navigation, hydropower production, fish and wildlife protection, and recreation. Each year, millions of people utilize the many public parks, marinas, and campgrounds conveniently located around the lake to pursue a variety of outdoor recreational experiences –making Hartwell one of the most visited Corps lakes in the nation.”

    How many more visitors might we get each year if there was actually a reliably maintained water level in the lake? It is time to take action politically against the poor mismanagement of this valuable resource by the Corps.

  3. Jerry Clontz says:

    The corps dedication to the harbor environment is admirable. Their lack of concern for the economics of the impoverished communities along the lakes is not. The horrible reputation of lake level control has stymied economic growth (real estate values, growth associated with highly attractive recreation areas and accompanying growth that occurs from both) for all communities adjacent to the lakes. Basically the Corps is destroying economics in a fashion similar to unrealistic regulations from the EPA. Hopefully we can get the attention of the Trump administration so they can help here the way they did with coal interests in West Virginia.

    • Mark Welborn says:

      The Corp follows the “Management Plan” (most of the time). Upper basin needs were not represented in the recent modification of the said plan….only as very low priority concerns. The result is that for residents of and investors in the upper Savannah River system region WE HAVE A VERY BAD PLAN. As with most government problems the answer will only come through politics. Those of us being harmed by the plan need to hound every politician that represents us in both states and the federal government until someone cares enough to change the plan to a more fair balance of priorities. Write, call aggravate until they listen.

      • Robert Long says:

        The Army Corp’s lack of concern for the Lake communities in the Upper Basin is well evidenced by their lack of interest in seeking long term solutions for year after year low lake levels. The only answers offered are “We need more rain,” “We are in a drought,” “La Nina,” or other such inane responses which offer no hope for those who reside on the lake’s edge. Meanwhile, property values languish, even decline, opportunities for recreation are lost, homeowners’ docks sit in the mud and sustain damage. At best, homeowners must endlessly move their docks and then further out over and over chasing less and less water. The situation is absurd, unfair, and unnecessary. The vast majority of us have been good neighbors to the Corps policing and keeping our shorelines clean and following Corps policies. We are repaid with an annual visit to the Lake Hartwell Association meeting with palms outstretched and a “there’s nothing we can do” shrug of the shoulders. But maybe there is something WE can do. I urge all who read this to take a look at the 2017 White Bear Lake ruling in Minnesota in which a district judge ruled in favor of the White Bear Lake homeowners who argued that the state was at fault for unsustainable aquifer use. This may have some bearing and be a precedent for us.

        • emac1234 says:

          last 7 days (1/17-1/23) of release show an average output of 3678 at thurmond. It is very hard to find a week with less than 3600 average. At least give us what you promise.

          • Ferris says:

            USACE made the promise to natural resource agencies that they would increase wintertime releases to 3,800 cfs from 3,600 cfs on request to alleviate more severe downstream impacts. Slightly above 3,600 cfs is the safe side that helps prevent 3,800 cfs releases. The 2012 Drought Plan clearly states the scenario.
            GA DNR, SC DNR, and NOAA fisheries required this concession to approve the 2012 Drought Plan. In other words, the 3,600 cfs wintertime average serves as a minimum, not a maximum, and USACE is keeping their promise.

            • emac1234 says:

              It really doesnt matter as we are going to 4K releases. I hope all the folks downstream enjoy the water!

    • Jamny says:

      I know this is off topic but Trump merely paid lip service to coal interests in WV, nothing has changed. It was just a ploy to rally the base and appease big donor Murray.

  4. Ferris says:

    “The tide gate removal again demonstrates the extraordinary dedication the Corps of Engineers has for the environment while striving to enhance America’s economic strength.” Thank you for both!

    What potential mitigation did USACE identify for the next Savannah Harbor deepening project in the distant future?

    • US Army Corps of Engineers says:

      Thanks Ferris! The distant future deepening is beyond the horizon, so we’re unable to answer that one :) ~Russell Wicke

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