An expanded “fish passage” structure to move endangered sturgeon and other species around and past New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam will require additional land acquisition in South Carolina, but is not likely to offer additional public access.
“Some of the fish passage, as conceptualized, will be on land already owned by the federal government,” said Billy Birdwell, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. “Federal property extends beyond the river banks a short distance.”
A fish passage structure designed several years ago, with an estimated cost of $7 million, was redesigned as a much larger project – now costing $32.2 million – and part of the mitigation plan for the corps $652 million project to deepen Savannah Harbor.
The bypass, for which construction funds could be available as early as 2013, will be built mostly on the South Carolina side of the river and is designed to allow upstream migration of both the shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon, along with other saltwater species – such as American shad and striped bass – that spawn in inland rivers.
Birdwell said early estimates indicate the structure will require five acres of federal land, an additional seven acres of private land at the construction site and six more acres of private land for an access road to support construction, operation and maintenance.
No fishing piers or other public-use amenities are planned.
“There are no plans to provide public access to the fish passage,” Birdwell said. “The federal government has not yet determined whether the fish passage will be closed by a buoy line to kayakers or left open, but recreation is not a purpose of this feature and therefore no federal funds can be expended to enhance recreation.”
Because its purpose is to provide passage for the fish, it would be counter to the environmental mitigation efforts to provide fishing access, he added.
Fish that can breach New Savannah Bluff would have access to about 20 additional miles of river – all the way from south Richmond County to the Augusta Diversion Dam at the canal headgates area.
The harbor’s mitigation plan also calls for payments totaling $3.3 million to Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources to help finance striped bass stocking and recovery efforts in the Savannah River.