Shutdown sends officials scrambling

Jim Blaylock/Staff
Boat ramp extensions at Wildwood Park, which Columbia County spent more than $100,000 to install last summer, have fallen apart, rendering the ramps unusable. This weekend's tournament will have to launch from other ramps in the area.

Columbia County's $1.1 million bass tournament megaramp at Wildwood Park is closed and inoperable - despite a $105,000 project last year that was supposed to keep the ramps usable during low water.

 

Although repair options are under study, the closure will complicate this weekend's Skeeter Owners Tournament, which already has 197 boats registered and anglers coming from as far away as New Jersey, Ohio and Arizona.

"It is a challenging situation, and the county is trying to work on this so it won't continue to happen," said Beda Johnson, director of Columbia County's Convention and Visitors Bureau. "But for Skeeter, we definitely have some challenges."

The current plan is to have participants launch from other ramps, including those at Keg Creek, Cherokee and Petersburg, said Stacie Adkins, the county's community events manager.

"For this weekend they will launch at other places, but they will still have the weigh-ins at Wildwood," she said.

Participants in the annual event include angler teams and boats from about 15 states, mostly across the Southeast.

Wildwood and its six-lane tournament ramp have lured in many major tournaments - including three consecutive Bassmaster events - since it opened four years ago.

The ramps were designed to accommodate boat traffic even if water levels fell to 316 feet above sea level - or 14 feet below full pool.

Currently, the lake is at 321.8 feet above sea level, meaning the ramps should be operable even if the water fell another 5.8 feet.

The problem, according to project manager Chip Mobley of the county's Facility Services Department, is that ramp extensions installed last fall apparently are not working properly.

The extensions added in 2006 included a series of concrete mats that were supposed to extend the ramps 40 linear feet - to the 316 mark. But they don't work.

"What we've run into is a silt condition we didn't know existed out there," Mobley said. The mats have settled into areas once filled with silt, making the ramp extensions unstable and unsafe.

Contractors are considering a different fix involving technology used by the Army Corps of Engineers at other ramps.

"We're looking into a more rigid type of concrete push-off slab to bridge the problem areas," Mobley said.

Although work is already under way to design - and hopefully fund - the needed improvements, it will likely be later in the year before any work can commence, he said.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

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