“We’ve added eight buoys in an arc, about 300 feet or so from the dam,” said Allen Saxon, assistant director of the Augusta Utilities Department, which operates the canal to provide drinking water for the city.
Safety concerns escalated in May after three kayakers paddling above the city Diversion Dam were swept through the canal’s intake gates.
The paddlers survived, but the accident prompted the closure in July of the canoe and kayak launch site near the headgates, where powerful currents are formed as water flows into the canal.
Now that the safety buoys are in place, the department is evaluating the best way to restore public access to the scenic segment of the river sandwiched by private lands between the Stevens Creek Dam and the Augusta Diversion Dam.
“It is still a work in progress, but we are making some progress,” Saxon said.
Although the traditional launch site remains closed and posted, officials are evaluating another site – also on city-owned land – that is just upstream from the original launch area.
“We are working with folks up there to locate a good site that we can create another launch point a little further up,” he said. “Once we get the site identified we’ll just need to get the path cleared.”
Once the site is prepared and opened, it will be a walk-in, or portage, launch area – just as the existing site was, Saxon said.
The department is also developing new signage for the area to further emphasize the danger of paddling or swimming near the intake gates.
Designs for those signs are being coordinated with the Augusta Canal Authority and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.