Was it worthwhile for Columbia County to invest $1,118,620 to develop a first-class fishing tournament site at Wildwood Park?
Based on the major promoters scrambling to hold events there, the local-option sales tax dollars were indeed well spent.
Local anglers lobbied for years before Columbia County took the initiative and created the facility, which was dedicated in April and includes parking for 270 trucks and boat trailers.
Last week, one of the nation's largest bass tournament trails - ESPN/BASSMaster Tour - announced it will bring its entourage, along with the national media, to Clarks Hill next March 3-6, marking the fourth big event already booked for Wildwood Park during 2005.
Carly Kobasiar, events manager at the Greater Augusta Sports Council, which has worked to help bring big fishing tournaments to the area, said the event will probably attract as many as 400 anglers and also will generate an hour-long television show filmed by ESPN.
"When you get ESPN, the television coverage and 400 anglers, it doesn't get too much better than that," she said. "People have been hearing about Wildwood, and they're calling and asking about it. We're also doing a lot of research about tournaments and events that are out there, and calling them to see what we can do."
Typically, tournament anglers spend $170 per person per day on meals, lodging and supplies - and also buy more expensive equipment periodically. The ESPN/BASSMaster tournament alone is expected to generate $600,000 or more in economic impact.
CORPS PROMISES: Despite a broad funding shortfall due to security concerns and the war in Iraq, there is at least some incentive for the Army Corps of Engineers to fulfill a promise it made in 2002 when it fired up Russell Dam's fish-killing reversible turbines.
The commitment was to build a $5.5 million cryogenic oxygenation system that would expand striped bass habitat in Clarks Hill Lake, which bears the impact of millions of baitfish killed each year as they are sucked backwards through Russell's powerful turbines.
Last week, during a Congressional subcommittee hearing held in Augusta to discuss future hydropower priorities, the corps' Savannah District Commander - Col. Mark Held - told congressman there is a great incentive to complete the project.
The reason: the corps cannot use more than two reversible turbines from June through September, when demand for electricity is greatest, because the resulting warmer water in the tailrace is detrimental to striped bass.
Once the oxygen system is completed, however, that restriction will be lifted.
As Congress mulls legislation aimed at increasing hydropower production nationwide to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, the corps has an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by pushing for funds to fulfil its promise - which in turn would increase hydropower production.
The design plan calls for a cryogenic storage plant near Modoc, S.C., where pure oxygen will be stockpiled in large tanks, then fed into 10 pressurized lines extending 4,100 feet apiece along the lake's bottom. Oxygen forced through the porous hoses would be released - much like water through a garden soaker hose.
The resulting oxygenation of deep, cold water is expected to create near-perfect striped bass habitat for almost five miles downstream.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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