Two months from opening of Chattahoochee whitewater course, much work left to be done

About two months from the opening of the Chattahoochee River whitewater course, there is plenty of work left to do, but the construction company and project organizers are confident it will be completed on schedule.

West Point-based Batson-Cook Construction, the primary contractor, still must remove the remains of the City Mills and Eagle & Phenix dams. Both structures have been breached, but large chunks must be fished out of the river to clear the channel. A launch ramp for rafts must be constructed at the base of the North Highland Dam.

Thursday afternoon Denver-based civil engineer Rick McLaughlin, one of the course designers, was at the river watching a family of kayakers navigate a rapid near the Eagle & Phenix Dam.

“We thought today would be a work day, but there is 5,000 cfs moving through so today is a kayaking day and not a work day,” McLaughlin said of the high flows coming from the North Highland Dam.

It will be a push to have the course ready for the Memorial Day opening, but it can happen McLaughlin said.

“If the boss wants it ready, we will have it ready,” he said.

The bulk of the work before the scheduled opening Memorial Day Weekend must be done at the City Mills Dam, which was breached by explosives more than a week ago. Batson-Cook crews are constructing a short road along the Georgia side to reach the dam, said Paul Meadows, the project executive with Batson-Cook Construction.

“We have it broken apart and we just need to get the track hoe in there and get it out,” Meadows said Thursday. “We are doing what we can as the flow allows.”

It should take about three weeks to remove the pieces of the City Mills Dam, Meadows said.

When the dam was blown March 12, whitewater organizers were hoping to get a preview of the upper part of the course that runs from City Mills to the North Highland Dam in Bibb City.

“We would have hoped the pool would have dropped more than it has,” said Richard Bishop, president of Uptown Columbus Inc., the nonprofit downtown redevelopment corporation charged with building the $25 million course.

When the Eagle & Phenix Dam was breached a year ago, the rapids up to City Mills began to immediately take shape as the river narrowed. It did not happen at City Mills because many of the dam chunks settled back in the channel, which did not allow for the pool behind it to drain.

“We will get in there and get it open in the next couple of weeks,” Bishop said. “When we do, the pool will start going down.”

In the next week, Batson-Cook will likely have crews working at three spots along the course. It will take about five weeks to construct the launch ramp on the Georgia side. There is also about two weeks’ worth of work to finish clearing out what is left of the Eagle & Phenix Dam. A portion of it remains on the Georgia side of the river.