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Plans for kayak event stir Savannah River privacy issues

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:41 PM
Last updated 9:22 PM
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A permit request for a canoe and kayak festival has raised questions about whether Betty’s Branch along the Savannah River is a public waterway or an exclusive golf club’s private property.

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The channel, accessible from Columbia County’s Riverview Park, was part of the course for last year’s inaugural Benderdinker event, which attracted about 400 paddlers.

Festival organizer Kristina Williams received a Georgia Department of Natural Resources permit for the 2012 event, but was advised when she applied for a similar permit this year that Betty’s Branch is the private property of Champions Retreat Golf Course in Evans.

“We were told no permit would be issued without written permission from Champions Retreat,” she said.

Bill Fitzpatrick, the club’s general manager and chief operating officer, initially rejected her request because the April 27 paddling event coincides with a golf tournament the same weekend with 160 players.

Although Williams and the club’s management are attempting to work out a compromise to accommodate both events, the issue of whether Betty’s Branch is private remains under debate.

Capt. Mark Padgett of DNR’s Law Enforcement Section, who advised Williams she must have permission to paddle the area, said his officers advised him the channel is private property.

“A marine event permit is allowed only for waters of the state, and the state of Georgia can’t give people permission to go on other people’s property,” Padgett said.

Betty’s Branch is formed when the Savannah River splits into two channels and flows on either side of Germany Island before merging back into a single channel downstream. Champions Retreat owns much of the island and has built a bridge and golf holes there.

Padgett said he researched Georgia case law that indicates a waterway becomes private property when the same landowner owns both sides of a channel. That criteria, he said, is met with Champions Retreat and an adjacent landowner, Robert Pollard Jr., who owns land on both sides of Betty’s Branch above and below the golf course.

Savannah Riverkeeper, an advocacy group, disagrees.

Betty’s Branch, also known as “Little River,” is simply a part of the Savannah River that flows around an island, and therefore public water, said riverkeeper director Tonya Bonitatibus.

From a federal perspective, the main river channel and Betty’s Branch are both considered navigable waters of the United States, said Billy Birdwell, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah District.

“A determination of navigability, once made, applies laterally over the entire surface of the waterbody,” he said. “Therefore, if Little River is flooded by the ordinary high water of the Savannah River, it would also be considered a navigable water of the U.S.”

He added, however, that state agencies, such as Georgia’s State Property Commission, can regulate issues involving access to or restrictions from certain areas.

The matter is also under study at DNR’s headquarters level by Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, said Melissa Cummings, a spokeswoman for the Wildlife Resources Division.

“Lt. Col. Weaver said that the first thing to determine is if the property is private property, so he has forwarded the request to the DNR legal offices for review,” she said.

The Benderdinker festival, meanwhile, will still be held April 27 – and will have larger crowds and more sponsors than last year, Williams said.

“We’re trying to promote awareness of some of the wonderful natural resources in this county that aren’t being utilized,” she said. “It’s a good event for the community.”

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Riverman1
82451
Points
Riverman1 03/27/13 - 07:10 pm
5
1
Wade Padgett of DNR’s Law

Wade Padgett of DNR’s Law Enforcement Section, who advised Williams she must have permission to paddle the area, needs more education on the law concerning the river. Does he really believe if I buy land on both sides of the river, across from each other, that I could put a fence up? That outdated law has been discarded forever. This is totally absurd. For a DNR official to say other wise says he should be demoted.

716
Points
Barry Paschal 03/27/13 - 07:51 pm
3
0
MARK, not Wade

RM: Mark Padgett, not Wade. I'm sure our local judge by that name has more sense.

Sweet son
10117
Points
Sweet son 03/27/13 - 07:53 pm
0
0
Sounds like nothing more than event scheduling conflicts.

We would hope that both sides of the issue could work out a resolution that would allow golfers and kayakers to utilize the waterway for pleasure. From the Google maps it appears that a side journey down Betty's Branch would be great for the kayaking event. I bet if you checked with the golfers they wouldn't mind kayaks slipping by while they are playing. Hope it works out for all concerned!

Rob Pavey
552
Points
Rob Pavey 03/27/13 - 08:58 pm
0
0
Wade was my error. Captain's name is Mark.

and it's been fixed, of course. the magic of the internet.

crazyoldman
21
Points
crazyoldman 03/27/13 - 09:29 pm
3
0
HMM

Does that mean I can go buy land on bith sides of the mouth of the Savannah river and start charging the cargo ships to pass through my water way???

I'm Back Again
307
Points
I'm Back Again 03/27/13 - 11:05 pm
1
0
I'm going tomorrow to buy 1
Unpublished

I'm going tomorrow to buy 1 lot at the lake on the Ga side, and 1 lot at the lake on the SC side. That would mean I own the entire lake if I own property on both sides of it. Try to trespass and see what happens suckas!

Willie Loman
267
Points
Willie Loman 03/27/13 - 11:16 pm
0
2
Nothing to see here.

The property owner has given permission for the event to use it's property. Crazy, if your property was in one state as is the case here, yes you could charge any ship a tariff to navigate the waterway. The law is the law. I think the Savannah Riverkeeper is tilting at windmills on this one. She looked somewhat silly on the TV news tonight. Pick your battles wisely.

Right on
176
Points
Right on 03/28/13 - 01:31 pm
0
0
Sounds like they do not know

Sounds like they do not know where Betty's Branch is located. The area the are discussing was always little river to me and yes, it is not private property. Betty's Branch runs from Washington Road near Woodbridge, crosses Hardy Mc Manus Road and empties into Little River. Grew up on this water. The island is private property. Unless they plan on landing on the island, it is anybody's water!!!!

Riverman1
82451
Points
Riverman1 03/28/13 - 10:11 pm
0
0
Key is "Navigable"

Fishermen on the river have long kicked that old law around. I've never seen it enforced because the "navigable waters of the U.S." seems to negate it being enforced anywhere a boat can go. If this Mark Padgett thinks he can close off Betty's Branch, he's out to lunch and needs more training. I have taken my boat through there many times. The boaters of all kinds, big and small, and the golfers have always been courteous to each other.

I have seen something similar tried on the SC side where there is a cove going a good ways inland. There's a fence across it, but it's pretty far back in the cove. That owner could argue that shallow area is not navigable.

If the navigable part wasn't crucial what would be stopping someone from buying land on both sides of the Altamaha River near the coast and stopping all boat traffic?

Riverman1
82451
Points
Riverman1 03/28/13 - 07:20 pm
0
0
Another Issue

I'll tell ya another issue if they really want to push closing off that branch. Is that pedestrian bridge legal? Who gave them the right to put it across navigable waters? It's a hindrance. With high water, I don't believe a pontoon boat could go under.

Put a barrier across and I'll call the press and DNR to watch me tear it down. I've got a lawyer who will represent me pro bono on this issue.

cehmd
2
Points
cehmd 03/29/13 - 05:37 pm
0
0
changed their tune

Of course (pun intended) when champions was in the permitting and planning phases they expressely stated they would not try to limit the waterway access

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