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Century-old dam removed to clear passage on river in Georgia

July 21, 2018 GMT

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — A century-old dam is being removed to clear a passage on the Middle Oconee River in Georgia.

The Athens Banner-Herald reports the removal began this week clearing debris that had clogged the two breaches. It shoved hundreds of tons of rock into the Middle Oconee just above the dam to form a pad for large machines that move on tracks to roll out into the river.

There was a machine with an 8,500-pound hammer attached to its hydraulic arm that chipped away at the dam’s concrete, steel and stone, and another had a big claw-like scoop.

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The University of Georgia-owned White Dam is just above the confluence of the Middle and North Oconee Rivers. The dam is managed by UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

After workers have cleared out the part of the dam slated for demolition, the rock brought in for the pads will be removed or used to stabilize a nearby bank. The concrete from the dam will also be removed and the steel rebar and plates that helped hold the dam together.

The stone parts of the dam, which presumably came from the river itself, will remain.

Warnell School fisheries professor Jay Shelton said a project like the White Dam modification could cost $380,000 to $800,000 if privately funded.

UGA could only pay $30,000 with help from numerous agencies and nonprofits.

Shelton called the project a historic one. He was one of the drivers behind the dam removal.

The dam had already been breached in two places decades ago when power turbines were removed, but the water rushed through the two holes with such force that small fish such as the imperiled Altamaha shiner couldn’t move beyond the dam.

Warnell School dean Dale Greene said the breaches also regularly became clogged with floating debris which UGA workers would have to come in and remove.

The EPA is helping with water-quality monitoring upstream and downstream, for a year before the dam modification and four years afterward.

UGA is using a drone to record and document the work process.

Two Chattahoochee River dams in Columbus came down earlier this decade. That was an economic-development project, not primarily for habitat restoration.

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Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com