Insurance provider Aflac announced today that it has donated $1 million toward the

Chattahoochee River Restoration Project in Columbus, Ga., the company's home town.

 

The restoration project, which was announced in April 2010, was spearheaded by UPtown Columbus Inc., a private nonprofit organization and business improvement district created to support the businesses and residents of the region. It includes a river walk, a "Rails-to-Trails" project, a new pedestrian bridge over the river, and a new commercial plaza.

 

But the main focus of the restoration project will be the recovery of a 2.5-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River to its original splendor, creating a restored habitat for native fish and species and, in the process, establishing what project developers are billing as "a world-class white-water track for rafting and kayaking, the longest such urban white-water venue in the world."

 

To enable the creation of the whitewater course, the Eagle & Phenix Dam — which was built in 1868 to power the now-defunct textile mill by the same name — will be demolished along with the nearby City Mills Dam. Once the dams are breached, the river will regain its free-flowing state for the first time since 1828, according to project organizers. The breach of the Eagle & Phenix Dam is scheduled for March 21.

 

The donation for the project comes via the Aflac Foundation, the charitable arm of the insurance company. "Aflac is committed to investing in this project because it will help ensure that the Chattahoochee Valley remains a terrific place to live and raise a family," said Kathelen Amos, president of the Aflac Foundation, in a prepared statement. "Restoring the river signifies a rebirth of a historic part of our country, creating a significant economic impact, dazzling recreational activities and an overall enhancement of the image of our community."

 

Aflac has nearly 4,000 employees in the Columbus region. "This $1 million donation is an investment in the future of our environment and our economic vitality, which often can and do go hand-in-hand," said Alfred Blackmar, Aflac vice president of facilities and chairman of Aflac's Green Committee.

 

John Turner, chairman of the River Restoration Committee, noted that Aflac Chairman and CEO Dan Amos and his wife, Kathelen, were some of the earliest supporters of the river restoration project. "Since Aflac put its roots down in Columbus in the 1950s, the company has been front and center with just about every important initiative in our community," he said. "In this particular case, their gift will not only change this river forever; it will change this community forever."

 

According to a 2010 planning document (pdf), the river restoration project is expected to create 700 new jobs, attract 188,000 visitors to the town annually, and have a positive economic impact of $42 million for the region. It is also expected to benefit other restoration projects in the city's historic district.

 

The river restoration project is expected to be completed in 2013.

 

Aflac is a sponsor of Mother Nature Network.