“Right now that is still a long-range goal for us, but we don’t foresee any funding in the next fiscal year,” said Allan Brown, the warm water program supervisor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The hatchery, built in 1950, operated for decades as part of a program to provide free sportfish for lakes and ponds in the region.
In 1996, however, it was closed because of federal budget cuts and taken over by Georgia, which managed the property and its popular aquarium but could not afford to continue to operate the hatchery. The aquarium, which was open to visitors, is also closed.
Two years ago, the site – which also includes Magnolia Springs State Park – attracted national attention as archaeologists unveiled discoveries linked to Camp Lawton, a Civil War prisoner of war stockade built there in 1864.
Plans were discussed in which the Fish & Wildlife Service and Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division would reopen the hatchery, possibly during 2012.
“We would like to get it up and running and put appropriate staffing there, but we would have to have funding,” Brown said.
The site’s abundant freshwater springs make it attractive as a fish hatchery, he said, and possibilities for its reuse include raising striped bass or studying imperiled species, such as the shortnose sturgeon.
Federal authorities are also involved in discussions of the proposed deepening of Savannah Harbor, which includes mitigation payments for fisheries programs – including a fish passage structure at New Savannah Bluff lock and dam near Augusta.
When the reopening proposal was discussed in 2010, estimates indicated it would require $8.3 million to get the facility running again, with an annual operating budget of about $2.8 million.