Benderdinker, Champions Retreat reach agreement

Last year's Benderdinker canoe and kayak festival in Columbia County attracted about 400 paddlers, and organizers say the 2013 event - to be held April 27 - is likely to be even larger.



A canoe and kayak festival stalled over Georgia’s initial refusal to issue a permit for the event will be held April 27 as scheduled, according to organizers and state officials.

“The Benderdinker 2013 will go on at Little River/Betty’s Branch,” said event founder Kristina Williams, whose inaugural music and paddling festival was held last year in the same location along the Savannah River.

Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources issued a permit for the 2012 festival but at first refused to issue one this year over claims that part of the paddling route was private property owned by Champions Retreat Golf Club and Robert Pollard Jr.

Williams was first told she would receive a permit only if she obtained written permission from the landowners to paddle in their water.

On Friday, however, after consulting with legal staff and reviewing Army Corps of Engineers data, DNR Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver said his officers "felt comfortable in signing the Marine Event permit allowing the festival to proceed through the questioned waterway."

The agency's staff will continue to "consult with the landowner in order to keep them well-informed of the arrangement," Weaver said, in an e-mail.

The channel in question is a segment of the Savannah River, known as Little River, that flows around Germany Island and past its confluence with Betty’s Branch before rejoining the Savannah River’s main channel.

Champions Retreat’s management initially refused to sanction the Benderdinker event, citing conflicts with a golf tournament the same day.

However, even before Friday's ruling, the two parties had worked out an arrangement, Williams said in an e-mailed report to sponsors and participants.

“We have agreed that we will pass through but we will have assistance from the Georgia state DNR to help with the blocking and passing of the launched groups through the passage while the golfers tee off,” she said. “Once we have passed the section of Champions Retreat, there will be no issues.”

The Georgia State Golf Association’s Four Ball Championship at Champions Retreat has about 160 players.

“Clearly, they have spent a lot of time getting to the level they are to be invited to play this tournament,” Williams said, adding that officials with both events will coordinate the golf and paddling so both can occur the same day.

Last year’s Benderdinker attracted about 400 paddlers, but larger crowds are expected this year.

The issue of whether the Little River arm of the Savannah is private property or public water was a source of dispute.  The Savannah Riverkeeper advocacy organization contended it is a public, navigable waterway. The Army Corps of Engineers has categorized the channel as navigable “waters of the United States” for more than a century.

Georgia’s Wildlife Re­sources Division had referred the matter to its legal department for more clarity.

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