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Mystery from history 

Removal of timber mats complicates Riverwalk extension

ENGINEERS FOR the Riverwalk extension project expected all along that many submerged wooden piles would have to be removed from the river bottom before construction could begin.

What they didn’t anticipate was the discovery of a series of massive, heavy timber mats about 12 to 15 feet beneath the river bottom. The mats were made up of 10-by-12-foot and 10-by-10-foot timbers that were fastened together using steel rods and spikes.

The timbers were perpendicular to the shore line, and seemed to be part of some sort of foundation. City Manager Michael Brown told the Savannah City Council at its Aug. 28 meeting that the mats probably were constructed between 1870 to 1910 as docks on the riverfront were fortified to bring rail cars in.

“This area to the east of the Marriott was being used for all kinds of things during the history of the city,” Brown said. “These structures were really like bridges stuck in the river. All of this is somewhat speculative, but we think that probably is the explanation.”

The project contractor, TIC, had the mat removed, and construction of the Riverwalk was started. But as backfilling began, the contractor noticed that the bulkhead appeared to shift.

Thomas and Hutton, engineers for the project, investigated the problem and determined that the removal of the mat had disturbed the top 12 to 15 feet of the soil at the bottom of the river. That means if the bulkhead had been completed as designed, it wouldn’t be stable.

“The contractor noticed in a few places that there was small movement of the decking,” Brown said. “They did an additional structural analysis and determined that additional work was needed.”

Brown said it will be necessary to install an anchor rod system along the entire length of the bulkhead to make it stable, requiring 190 anchors and doubling the amount of rip rap, or stone, needed. Total cost of the additional work is $1,224,540. However, the city’s share of the cost will not be significantly increased because the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has awarded the city a $1 million grant to be applied to the project.

The total cost of construction of the riverwalk will be $10,043,940, but state funding of $9 million will be applied to that. City employee Jenny Payne was commended for obtaining the DNR grant for the city.

“I think it’s noteworthy that although there is a change order none of us like to have to do, we were able to find a $1 million grant through the effort of staffer Jenny Payne,” Alderman Tony Thomas said. “A lot of time when we get change orders, we don’t get a $1 million grant. That is a bright spot.”

Brown said the end result of the project will be a lighted area with benches, much like the rest of the Riverwalk. “The work is proceeding and is still on schedule with the Riverwalk platform,” he said.

When completed, an additional 2,100 feet will be being added to the existing Riverwalk. Brown said the project is scheduled for completion in March.

After two years of discussions with taxi-cab owners and drivers, the council held the first reading of revisions to the city’s taxi ordinance. The council is expected to consider proposed changes to the revisions and to take further action at its next meeting.

The revisions call for taxi drivers to be required to wear identifiable uniforms. Cab companies must be listed in the Yellow Pages so that customers can contact them if needed, such as if the customer loses something in a cab.

Once the changes are made, smoking will be prohibited inside all taxis. At the present time, drivers are allowed to smoke inside the cabs as long as they don’t have passengers.

To offset the cost of the new regulations, the ordinance allows companies to use rooftop advertising. A revision also has been proposed to allow for a fuel surcharge that will be charged to passengers to help cab companies offset high fuel costs. Taxi companies will be allowed to charge a $1 fee per trip when gas prices are between $3.50 and $4, and a $2 fee when prices are above $4.

The city will use the American Automobile Association’s southeast regular gas average to determine which fee will be charged. The surcharge will expire next March when the Consumer Price Index adjusts rates automatically and will reflect fuel costs.

Yet another ordinance will be brought before the council in the future that will require taxi companies to provide more handicapped-accessible cabs. Both Chatham Area Transit and the Savannah-Chatham Council on Disability had requested the ordinance as part of the community’s transportation priorities.

Cab companies will be allowed to phase in this requirement over a five-year period. At the present time, only one out of the 220 licensed cabs in Savannah is handicapped accessible, but if all three major cabs companies comply with the ordinance, there will be at least three.

Currently, there are about 50 taxi companies and 260 drivers in Savannah. A number of them had petitioned the city to ask for changes that would provide additional revenue for fuel and also from advertising on the cabs. Other drivers also asked the city to consider implementing more taxi stands throughout the downtown area.

There are 220 licensed cabs within the city, and 57 of them are authorized to pick up passengers at the airport. There are three cab companies that control the bulk of the city’s taxi fleet, with independent owners and drivers comprising the rest.

Meetings have been held over the past year with both the owners and drivers in what Brown termed a “nearly excruciating” process. The city also used “mystery shopping” to make sure the companies are following the rules.

In other action, the council:

• approved the transfer of a liquor license from James William Feuger to Brijesh Patel for Malone’s, located at 313-321 W. River St. A show cause hearing was held prior to the council’s vote because of several incidents that occurred at the bar during the past two years.

• agreed to take Gov. Sonny Perdue’s challenge to match the state’s effort in reducing energy consumption. By approving a resolution to accept the challenge, Savannah becomes the first local government to sign the challenge.

• voted to join the Bicycle Friendly Communities Initiative, which is operated by the League of American Bicyclists, a non-profit organization that encourages bike-friendly policies. A community action plan will be developed to make the city more bike-friendly and encourage use of alternative vehicles.

• learned that the city has been ranked by the readers of AmericanStyle magazine as the No. 4 destination in the Top 25 Mid-Sized Cities. The selection was made because of Savannah’s commitment to arts institutions and arts tourism.

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Linda Sickler

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