Flint River dam proposals revive statewide controversy

1 12 2008

| Macon.com

THOMASTON — Some days it seems like the Flint River flows backward.

Back three decades, in fact, to a time when damming the gentle Flint was a roiling controversy where it flowed through Upson County.  Those were the days when Thomaston was still in the business of clothing Americans and transporting them on B.F. Goodrich tires. Mill jobs were plentiful, and a series of three big lakes nearby seemed like icing on the cake.

In the 1970s, sculpting the landscape with mammoth engineering projects was viewed as the culmination of human achievement, and Georgia environmentalists were only starting to organize. But with the help of Mercer University students whose research showed a lack of demand for lake recreation in the area, river advocates prompted then Gov. Jimmy Carter to scuttle the dam project.

In the intervening years, Sprewell Bluff, the location for one of the big dams, became a state park. Most people thought the dam project was as long gone as the ’70s fuel shortage.

It was. But now both are back, though the reasons have changed.

Today the chief justification for Flint River dams has switched from hydroelectric power and recreation to water supply. Nonetheless, the possible economic benefits of nearby reservoirs aren’t lost on Thomaston residents, some of whom are more enthusiastic now that the local economy has been drained by factory closures.

Environmentalism has a broader appeal in Georgia today. Carter helped announce a Flint Riverkeeper advocacy organization this summer to mobilize against a revived dam project.

Republican congressmen Lynn Westmoreland and Nathan Deal sought $10 million this year in federal funding for a study of reauthorizing the Flint River dams. And this summer, the first draft of metro Atlanta’s newest water supply plan called for two dams on the Flint after 2035.

Last month, the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority released a report on the most immediate possibilities for expanding the state’s water supply. The report highlighted 16 existing reservoirs that could be expanded, including four on tributaries of the Flint River nearest Atlanta.

Brian Robinson, Westmoreland’s press secretary, said funding for studying the dam was put in the water resources bill during the last congressional session, but no action was taken. He said Westmoreland will probably request the money again.

Read on here.

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