Scientists were in Augusta last week trying to figure out the best way to modify a local landmark.
The challenge is how to let fish moving up the Savannah River get past New Savannah Bluff Dam.
“We are looking at all the alternatives for fish passage,” said Bill Post, a biologist and diadromous fishes coordinator for South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources.
For many decades, species such as American shad, striped bass and sturgeon have been halted at the dam and blocked from upstream spawning grounds.
Although federal budgets are tight, a $7 million allocation to modify the dam has been proposed as part of the broad mitigation plan associated with the pending deepening of Savannah Harbor.
Post and fellow scientists from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other groups are mulling a custom-designed rock ramp to be built on the South Carolina side with a series of ledges that would allow fish to move around and past the dam.
“The rock ramp was an alternative,” said Post, adding that the existing dam would be kept intact. “We think it would maintain the (upstream) pool and still allow fish to come and go.”
If the fish passage structure is ever built, its completion would trigger requirements for similar fish passage systems at two other dams above the city – the Augusta Diversion Dam at the canal headgates; and the Stevens Creek hydroelectric dam, owned by South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.
One of the main species of concern in the Savannah is the endangered shortnose sturgeon. Recent studies using radio transmitters have tracked one tagged fish all the way to New Savannah Bluff. “It came up river three times,” Post said. “Twice in March and again in April.”
The tagging study is a multi-state project that has yielded some eye-opening surprises in South Carolina, where two tagged sturgeon were found farther inland than anyone expected.
The fish came in from the sea at Charleston and made their way up the Cooper River, through both Santee lakes and eventually into the Wateree River. One was found just below Wateree Dam and the other near U.S. Highway 1 a short distance downstream.
Post said there is no guarantee they were that far inland for spawning, but further studies are planned to help answer that question.
BAURLE RAMP: After months of construction, anglers are once again using the Bob Baurle boat ramp below New Savannah Bluff.
A formal reopening ceremony is planned for Sept. 20 at 11 a.m., but boaters are welcome to use it anytime, said Ron Houck, the planning and development manager for Richmond County’s Recreation, Parks & Facilities Department.
The project included an additional ramp to supplement the existing ones, and parking for 27 vehicles with trailers, three handicapped spaces for vehicles with trailers, courtesy docks, gangways and other improvements.
PANTHER PLEA: It has been almost three years since a Georgia man on a primitive weapons deer hunt in Troup County pulled the trigger on a panther he saw wandering through Corps of Engineers land near West Point Lake – and the bizarre case has finally come to a close.
David Adams, 60, was fined $2,000 and sentenced to two years probation last week in a case processed through U.S. District Court. The healthy, 140-pound cat, it turned out, was a federally endangered Florida panther.
Authorities say Adams knew he was shooting at a cougar, a species for which there is no open season in Georgia. The Florida panther has been listed as an endangered species since March 11, 1967, giving it protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Georgia officials chose not to prosecute Adams since the animal was federally protected. Maximum penalties for violating the act include prison terms and fines up to $100,000.
Although state officials get reports of panther sightings each year, no concrete evidence of another big cat has turned up since the Troup County incident, said Melissa Cummings, spokeswoman for Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division.
PADDLE PARTY: Savannah Riverkeeper is recruiting adventurers for next weekend’s 45-mile, two-night camping and paddling trip down the Savannah River to Plant Vogtle.
The inaugural “Paddle with the Riverkeeper” voyage will depart at 8 a.m. Saturday from the Baurle Boat Ramp at New Savannah Bluff, with a shoreline campout and dinner that evening at Cowden Plantation near Jackson.
Sunday’s trip will take the group to the boat ramp at the Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant in Burke County, where the second night will be spent. On Monday, vehicles will bring the paddlers and their gear home to Augusta.
The trip will include guided lectures on the river, its wildlife and ecology. Lecturers will include Skidaway Island naturalist and University of Georgia professor John Crawford.
The trip’s cost is $150 per person or $400 for a family of four. All meals and beverages are provided, along with help setting up camping gear along the way. Paddlers must bring their own canoes or kayaks, along with sleeping bags.
For details, visit www.savannahriverkeeper.org or call (706) 826-8991.
Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119,