The Oconee River Greenway is in danger of erosion due to river blockage caused by the remains of an old dam.
An old dam built for use on the Oconee River just a few hundred feet from the old mill is blocking up the river, and the erosion is eating away at the bank at the Greenway. Several trees have already fallen because of such erosion.
According to Doug Oetter, a geography professor at GC, we might not have half of the Greenway in a year from now.
Oetter is in the process of talking to the city of Milledgeville to bring about a dam modification to free up the river and prevent the erosion from taking away a space that many know and love.
In 1821, the General Assembly granted the right to build a mill was along the river, called Treanor Mill. Later, it was converted into a hydroelectric power station used to bring electricity to the town of Milledgeville. A second channel was built on the river, along with a series of dams nearby to bring water down from the main channel to power the turbines.
Over the years, sediment and dirty have clogged up the old dam and has only allowed a slow trickle of water to move down the main channel. As a result, the secondary channel is flowing too strongly, causing serious erosion.
Oetter believes that the rapids caused by this are within Category 2-3. To the unsuspecting kayaker or someone floating down the river, this section can be extremely hazardous and could flip their kayak.
Craig Henry, the president of the Oconee River Greenway Foundation mentioned that this fix needs to happen soon or else the Greenway could be washed out. The Oconee River Greenway Association, whose funds are raised by ORGF, brought in a consultant and looked at the issues with erosion and proposed an $800,000 fix.
Henry mentioned that this would not be a total removal of the dam but a small modification that would open it up by 15 feet, allowing for better water flow and relieving the banks from the strong current.
Oetter suggested the fish in the Oconee River as a means to doing this dam modification. By opening up the dam, fish habitats would flourish. Fish would be able to swim upstream and downstream freely, allowing for better spawning. Oetter also mentioned that with the dam modification, Milledgeville would be able to set up a whitewater section of the river for whitewater kayaking.
“It’s called a cutbank, and it’s where, because the river is going around a corner, it speeds up on the outside of that corner, and it just keeps washing away the bank, and it is encroaching,” Oetter explained. “It’s already knocked down about five trees, and it is encroaching towards the sidewalk, and it threatens to cut off the whole north end of the Greenway, meaning we won’t have access to that anymore. This will all be done by science, ecology, history, and will promote water quality, recreation and fisheries.”
The next step, according to both Oetter and Henry, is to bring a consultant from the Army Corps of Engineers to Milledgeville to take a look at the proposition and start moving. This is because the only people who are authorized to complete the dam modification are the Army Corps of Engineers because they are in charge of protecting national parks across the U.S.
“We haven’t really had approval from the city or the government to do this,” Henry said. “We’ve talked off the record to them, and they seem to like the idea. There’s been no opposition. If they would have felt like it would have been a problem, they would have stopped us from working on it, but that’s the next step, to get somebody from the Corps here, show them what we want to do, get a game plan together. Then we go to the county and city together [for funding].”
Student opinions vary regarding how the issue should be remedied.
“They should just get rid of it, just get rid of what is causing the issue and restore the water back to the main channel,” said sophomore Lindsey Kellogg, a theatre major. “Whatever would be the best solution for the water, the river and allowing us to go and enjoy the Greenway, because at the end of the day, I don’t want it to be taken away if there’s something wrong with it.”
Sophomore Caroline Conner, a psychology major, said that she would strongly support a dam modification and save the bank of the river.
“Yeah, you have to protect [the northern half] because that’s like the most important part of the Greenway,” Conner said.
No matter what, the GC and Milledgeville community is eager to address the danger of erosion and protect the treasured Oconee Greenway.