Willy and the Dam

Sunday morning languid tourists inch past lycra-clad cyclists along the Riverwalk.  Watching a great blue heron scan the mirror for the ten thousandth time, a man on a nearby bench announces, “Usually there’s a hawk fishing here right about now.”  Willy introduces himself, and explains the Eagle and Phenix Dam’s fate. “They’re going to dynamite it.”  According to a 2009 Army Corps of Engineers ecosystem restoration design proposal, “The recommended alternative for this project included the breaching of both dams and the construction of a series of environmental, recreation, safety, and aesthetic features. The overall goal of the project is to restore riverine and shoal habitat on the fall line reach of the Chattahoochee River from directly below North Highlands Dam (a Georgia Power Company operated hydroelectric facility) downstream to backwater sections of Walter F. George Lake.”  Read the entire proposal here.

Willy says a comprehensive whitewater rafting facility will draw enthusiasts from around the world, then asks if I go to church.  The innocuous question segues the conversation into a current of tragic events.  The Army veteran sleeps on the Riverwalk men’s restroom floor at night: a cold, brick building behind the green bench where he spends most mornings.  Valley Rescue Mission, the local shelter, requires a $20 background check obtained from the department of public safety.  “If I had twenty dollars, I’d get something to eat!”

His mother died 14 years ago the day after Thanksgiving, and his father died a few months later.  A mild seizure grips the left side of Willy’s body as he stands and steps closer.  The conversation intensifies.  Shortly after a stroke, his wife left.  Restless tears well-up when he says how thankful he is to be alive, having experienced so many things.

The human right to housing is denied to an Army veteran sleeping on a bathroom floor a few miles from the gates of Fort Benning, while the city spends $23 million on the Chattahoochee Whitewater Project.

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