I was recently in Columbus, Georgia for a family event. My family used to live in the area for quite some time.
While there, we stopped by the Columbus Riverwalk overlooking the Chattahoochee River. The city has been developing the riverwalk quite a bit, which included demolishing an old dam on the river to make a white water rapids course. We were lucky to get towards the area as the sun was nearing the horizon, making for some beautiful shots of the river.
I also noticed, for the first time, the abandoned hydroelectric power plant off to the side.
I couldn't help exploring it! First I went up underneath. There wasn't anything too interesting except for some stashed water gear.
The interesting parts were upstairs. My brother-in-law and I climbed up the big pipe by wedging ourselves in between it and the concrete wall (in truth, he had to help me up a little bit.. I've never been much of a climber).
Once on top of the pipe, we could follow it like a path to a trapdoor-like hole in the bottom of the catwalk underneath the main rooms of the plant.
Steps from the catwalk led into the plant itself, where the real treasures lay. Letterhead and half-filled-in logs for the Eagle & Phenix power plant, dated September 29 1952, lay scattered about in the central office as though the workers left in a hurry.
I'm honestly surprised the equipment isn't in worse condition after 60 years of abandonment.
We were able to go out onto the deck of the plant for an even more spectacular view of the river.
According to one of my sisters, who is a geologist and environmental scientist that works in the area, the plant was abandoned back in the day because the flow in the river was too irregular to get reliable and cost-effective power from it. Now, it's an aging relic of an infrastructure that no longer exists in Columbus and probably won't ever be built again in the US. All across the country, dams are being torn down to restore habitats, improve water quality or provide recreational opportunities.
Humans have been damming rivers for hundreds, if not thousands of years. One of the most conspicuous ways that early American settlers molded the landscape to their needs was to dam rivers and put mills on them. Oklahoma had almost no lakes until the 1940's and 1950's, when hundreds of man-made lakes were created as a response to the Dust Bowl.
Dams provide power, drinking water, and recreation. But they are also incredibly destructive to the environment. Besides displacing and destroying the species it directly floods, it also disrupts the natural river ecosystem. The Colorado River, which used to regularly feed the Sea of Cortez, has been dammed so many times that it now usually dies out as a trickle in the middle of the desert. Author Aaron Hirsch in his book Telling Our Way to the Sea points out that the diversion of the Colorado River, along with overfishing, are two of the principal causes behind the severe degradation of the ecosystem of the Sea of Cortez, widely considered to be one of the last unspoilt wildernesses in the world.
My point is that while we shouldn't lament the disappearance of dams like these, they are still a defining feature of much of our history- much the same way that cell phone towers or wind turbines will define the landscape of the 21st Century. The Eagle and Phenix hydroelectric plant tells a story about who we used to be.
They're in a process of converting the buildings surrounding the derelict plant into upscale, luxury condos. I'm glad I got to check out the old Eagle and Phenix hydro plant before it, too, became the overpriced home of a passel's worth of yuppies.
Dillon Dakota Carroll
...sees much and knows much