Conservation Groups Urge FERC and Georgia Power to Study Tugalo Decommissioning and Restore the Chattooga River Gorge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: NOVEMBER 30, 2021

CONTACTS:

Nicole Hayler, Chattooga Conservancy,  tel 864-647-9849,  email info@chattoogariver.org

April McEwen, American Rivers, tel 864-710-9045, email amcewen@americanrivers.org

CHATTOOGA RIVER, GA/SC  On Friday, November 26th, six conservation groups moved to intervene in a proceeding before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to urge the agency and Georgia Power to study removal of the Tugalo Dam, located on the Georgia and South Carolina border immediately below the confluence of the Chattooga and Tallulah Rivers.  The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the papers on behalf of American Rivers, American Whitewater, Upstate Forever, Chattooga Conservancy, Naturaland Trust and the Georgia Canoeing Association.

Georgia Power recently submitted a license amendment to FERC seeking authority to spend at least $24 million to rebuild, upgrade, and increase capacity of significant components of the Tugalo facility, which dams the lower Chattooga and Tallulah Rivers and floods nearly 6 miles of whitewater rapids and free-flowing river. 

The conservation groups are requesting that all impacts of the Tugalo Dam be evaluated in an environmental impact statement when considering this license amendment, so that the dam relicensing process, set to begin in 2031, is not preempted by a premature amendment and major investment in the old dam. 

The case for decommissioning Tugalo Dam is compelling, as the almost 100-year-old dam:

  • Only produces a maximum of 45 megawatts of power, less than 1% of Georgia Power’s total electric power production.
  • Buries nearly 6 miles of free-flowing river and world class whitewater rapids.
  • Removes important recreational opportunities in the region for thousands of residents and visitors.
  • Prevents the free movement of fish and the migration of plant and animal species in the ecologically rich Brevard Zone of the southern Blue Ridge Escarpment.
  • Traps over 100 years of sediment and emits significant greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
  • Floods nearly 600 acres of forest lands.

Investing in smarter infrastructure and restoring the Chattooga River Gorge would:

  • Provide exceptional nature-based recreation opportunities, and could generate millions of dollars for the local and regional economy.
  • Save in excess of $24 million to upgrade a century-old facility that could otherwise be used to invest in alternative renewable and less harmful energy like solar.
  • Mitigate the effects of climate change by eliminating facility greenhouse gas emissions and restoring native forests that remove carbon from the environment.
  • Provide connectivity between large blocks of wildlands to help ecosystems adapt to climate change.

Conservationists agree that if FERC grants an amendment to Georgia Power’s operating license without thoroughly considering important economic and environmental issues, it will allow Georgia Power to spend millions of dollars to upgrade Tugalo Dam, which will result in a biased relicensing process in 2031-2036. 

The coalition of national, regional and local conservation groups hope Georgia Power Company will work with them to accomplish transparency in decision-making, equitable infrastructure investment, and jump-starting the process of considering the feasible alternative of restoring the lower Chattooga and Tallulah Rivers—two iconic wild rivers—that will boost the local economy, provide exceptional recreational opportunities, and address compelling environmental concerns.  

“We believe the public deserves a say in whether allowing Georgia Power to continue operating Tugalo Dam for profit is in the public interest. The dam continues to cause lasting damage to the health of the Chattooga River. The dam is also holding local communities back from all of the recreation and economic benefits that a healthy river can offer. It makes sense to explore clean energy alternatives to the dam, and invite everyone who cares about the Chattooga to be a part of shaping its future.”

– Peter Raabe, Southeast Regional Director, American Rivers