Corps hears concerns about river

Published 9:29 pm Friday, October 26, 2012

LISTENING INTENTLY: Left to right, Col. Ed Jackson, commander of the South Atlantic Division of the Corps of Engineers, Memphis Vaughn, Lake Seminole Reservoir Manager, Homer Hirt, RiverWay South organization, and Col. Steven Roemhildt, commander of the Mobile District of the Corps of Engineers, listen to the concerns of Bainbridge citizens at a meeting Tuesday afternoon.|Jeff Findley

Two high-ranking officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited Bainbridge on Tuesday, to meet with local officials and business operators.

Col. Ed Jackson, commander of the South Atlantic Division based in Atlanta, and Col. Steve Roemhildt, commander of the Mobile District, had a lunch meeting at the Bainbridge Marina to discuss, with local stakeholders, the use of the Flint River for transportation and development projects.

The group also requested that the Corps study the possibility of reopening the Flint River to barge traffic.

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Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby updated the officials on the city’s River Walk project, much of which will utilize Corps-owned land.

Tommy Dollar, president of Dollar Farm Products, explained to the Corps officials how barge traffic on the Flint River would positively impact the agriculture businesses in the area.

Dollar said that the farming community could use barge traffic in the spring, to receive needed fertilizer and chemicals, and then in the late fall, to ship crops to customers.

“Agriculture needs this river,” Dollar said. “We could ship grains from the state docks and we could receive fertilizer, both liquid and dry, through the state docks.”

Whit DeBardeleben, President and CEO of Steward Machine Company, based in Birmingham, Ala., with a facility in Bainbridge, stressed to the Corps officials that barge traffic along the Flint River could be very important to his company. The company specializes in large, custom heavy equipment and building materials.

“We need waterway navigation windows,” DeBardeleben told the Corps officials. “I could double, if not triple, my workforce in Bainbridge in a couple of months if I were promised a navigation window.

“If we could get some sort of guarantee, or even a strong likelihood, of some water release at any time, we can plan ahead, get our products shipped out of here. The work is out there, gentlemen, there are jobs out there for Bainbridge, but the water is such a key ingredient for this town. The opportunities for Bainbridge are limitless.”

Roemhildt indicated that one of the main responsibilities of his office in Mobile is to operate any locks and dams along each waterway, including the Flint River.

“What keeps me up at night is the lack of water,” Roemhildt said. “One of the reasons why we have a lack of water is the demand. The way we operate the locks and dams is about a ‘B-solution.’ I hear what you are saying, but we have to consider everyone up and down the rivers.”