ELBERTON, Ga. -- Former President Jimmy Carter snubbed dedication ceremonies Saturday for the $500 million Richard B. Russell Dam, eight years after he tried to halt construction as a waste of money.
Sens. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., Ernest Hollings, D-S.C, Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Mack Mattingly, R-Ga., attended the dedication of the Savannah River dam straddling the Georgia-South Carolina border, but Carter refused to go.
'Pork barrel,' Carter called the dam this weekend. 'I had several serious disagreements with Congress, but the issue of water projects was one that caused the deepest breach between me and the Democratic leadership.'
But Thurmond told the crowd at the dedication ceremony that the dam helped meet 'the ever increasing needs of the Southeast.'
'The Russell dam was a long and arduous fight in development of the valley,' Thurmond said. 'We think it's God's chosen part of the world. Not only is this project large-sized, but it is large in scope.'
Congress estimated the Russell Dam would cost $86 million when it was authorized in 1966 with the support of both Thurmond, and Russell, D-Ga., the senator for whom it was named after his death in 1971.
By the time Carter tried to halt further work on the Russell Dam and other water projects in 1977, the dam was already well on its way to the final pricetag of more than $500 million.
The project was spared the ax when House Speaker Thomas P. 'Tip' O'Neill convinced Carter to accept a legislative compromise allowing funding of water projects already under way but deleting plans for new ones. 'I made some mistakes in dealing with Congress,' Carter said, 'and the one I still regret is weakening and compromising that first year on some of these worthless dam projects.'
The Army Corps of Engineers described the dam as the most ambitious ever built in the Southeast.
The project encompasses a 30-mile stretch along the Georgia-South Carolina border. Creation of the dam flooded nearly 27,000 acres, leaving a lake with a 546-mile shoreline.
For the dedication, what is claimed to be the world's largest free-flying flag was displayed on the face of the dam. The flag, owned by Frederick A. Torrey III, of Hephzibah, Ga., measures 60 feet by 90 feet and weighs 400 pounds.