Area anglers welcome fish passage proposal

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Imagine being able to fish for trophy stripers in the rocky shoals above Augusta -- or cast a flyrod for American shad above the Fury's Ferry Bridge.

For decades, environmental groups and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have pushed for a way to allow fish to swim upstream from New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, which has blocked fish migration since it was built in 1937.

Although the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to demolish the structure in 1999, the outcry from local governments prevented such an outcome.

Last week, during a meeting to discuss the planned deepening of Savannah Harbor, the corps proposed spending $7 million to build a fish passage device at New Savannah Bluff as part of the mitigation package that will accompany alterations of the harbor 200 river miles downstream.

If it happens, the bypass -- described in engineering plans as a 75-foot-wide ramp with 9-inch ledges that would allow fish to bypass the dam -- will re-open 20 miles of river previously inaccessible to migrating fish. Although the lock gates are opened periodically in the spring, it has not been effective at fish passage.

It is an important project to watch, and we hope it will come to pass.

BLACK POWDER TIME: You can sum up this weekend in three words: joy, joy, joy. Georgia's black powder season for whitetails opened Saturday, and despite forecasts for damp weather, most of the state's 58,264 licensed black powder hunters were planning to be in their trees well before first light. Last year, those hunters brought home 16,897 deer, according to Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.

The regular firearms season opens Oct. 17.

DEER CRASH UPDATE: After our recent column on deer crash statistics circulated this time of year by the auto insurance industry, I got a nice e-mail from Pam Tucker at Columbia County's Emergency Services office.

"It looks like it will be another busy year for deer strikes here too," she wrote. "We are already ahead of where we were last year this time."

The record number of deer-vehicle crashes in Columbia County was in 2008, when 604 accidents were recorded.

So far this year, the county has recorded 415. During the same period in 2008, only 342 had been reported.

What does that mean? With the rut barely beginning, there will be lots more crashes -- and Columbia County is on track for yet another recordbreaking year.

Watch the roadsides!

YOUTH WATERFOWL: The Army Corps of Engineers will play host to four special youth waterfowl hunts Nov. 14, Nov. 21, Dec. 12 and Dec. 19 at the Richard B. Russell Waterfowl Area.  Five slots will be available at each hunt for youth hunters nine to 15 years of age. At the Nov. 14 hunt, only those nine to 15 will be allowed to shoot and  youth must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.  For all other hunts, a parent or guardian must accompany youth participants and will be permitted to shoot with the youth hunter.  

Interested hunters should contact District Wildlife Biologist Jeff Brooks at the Russell Project Office toll free at 1-800-944-7207, ext. 3424 not later than 5 p.m., Oct. 29 or submit a letter requesting consideration for the hunt.   Letters should be addressed to U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Richard B. Russell Project Office,  Attn: Jeff Brooks, 4144 Russell Dam Drive, Elberton, Ga. 30635.  The letter should include name, age and address of youth, parent or guardian's name, preferred date of hunt, and daytime phone number.  Letters must be received at the Russell Project Office by Oct. 29.

Hunters will be selected by random drawing and notified of selection by Nov. 5.  

LAKE LEVEL CONCERN: The Friends of the Savannah River Basin group has been carefully following the banter surrounding the policies used by the Army Corps of Engineers to manage Thurmond Lake, especially during droughts.

Last week, the group's facilitator, Barb Shelley, shared the news that funds are allocated in the fiscal 2010 Energy Bill to continue the Savannah RIver Basin Comprehensive Study. The $1 million needed will include 50 percent from federal sources and 25 percent each from Georgia and South Carolina.

The study focuses on how best to manage the river and its lakes in everyone's best interest -- especially when there isn't enough water to go around.

Some of the issues that will affect the river in coming years include how two states will share such a resource, maintaining lake levels without depriving downstream users of needed water, future planning for Plant Vogtle's new reactors, which will require lots of water -- and the widespread impacts, both good and bad, of a $500 million project to deepen Savannah Harbor.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.


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