Everything Flows and Nothing Stays by Chuck Williams
Everything flows and nothing stays
By CHUCK WILLIAMS
For more than a decade, we have listened to big talk and bold ideas about whitewater rafting on the Chattahoochee River.
A decade ago, it looked to be on the fast track, backed by the Bradley-Turner Foundation and project champion John Turner, a Columbus businessman.
But things slowed considerably amid governmental red tape -- apparently you can’t just tear dams out at will -- and funding uncertainty.
Today, the $23 million public-private project is well under way.
And the change in the river is evident.
From this project’s initial discussions in 1999, one of the top selling points has been that removing the Eagle & Phenix Dam and the City Mills Dam would eliminate two small impoundments in the Chattahoochee and return the river to a more natural state.
Jim Phillips, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper at the time, summed up the project’s goal in a 2002 newspaper interview: “Restore the natural flow of the river.” Many others have said similar things along the way.
There is no doubt when those two dams are breached, it will significantly narrow the river and create rapids into downtown Columbus. It will create a habitat for fish and plants.
Those swift falling waters will provide an economic engine for years to come, just as they were harnessed for hydro power in the 1800s.
But something else became obvious in recent weeks. After watching the construction from the banks for four months, I spent an hour in the river bed a few weeks ago.
They are building the ultimate amusement park ride. That signature rapid at the Eagle & Phenix will rival any rapid you can ride in North Georgia or the hills of southern Tennessee.
The course is being built in and around the large rocks that make up the historic Fall Line. This is every bit a construction project as it is a destruction project. Tons of concrete has been poured into the Chattahoochee at the Eagle & Phenix Dam. Concrete-filled bags have been strategically placed along the river bottom to make this course safer and take away some of the places a rafter or kayaker could get trapped under water.
None of that should be visible when the project is completed, organizers have said. But this is not an exact science. They are dealing with a real river -- and things happen. Like in early November when a chunk of the riverwalk eroded into the river as water was diverted through a powerhouse to allow low flow in the construction zone.
And now the Eagle & Phenix Dam, a structure that has stood the test of time since 1868, is about to be breached.
The old is clearly giving way to the new. This is a project designed to change downtown Columbus, and I have little doubt it is going to be for the better.
But let’s be frank -- just as the river was altered by 19th Century industrialists, it is being altered again.
And as it was then, the driving force is economic development.
Chuck Williams, metro editor, can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2012 Ledger-Enquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.