Riverkeeper Report: Flood abatement, opportunity missed

Published 10:51 am Saturday, September 28, 2013

A crew from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removes trees and logs from the Blackwater River. - SUBMITTED | JEFF TURNER

A crew from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removes trees and logs from the Blackwater River. – SUBMITTED | JEFF TURNER

Spirit of Moonpie and I were on the Blackwater the 19th through the 21st below Franklin. The water was low and pretty nasty from low flow. The water was 75 degrees and the dissolved oxygen was way down to 4 ppm. Air temps ranged from 50 to 78 degrees. Other than the green scum, and cows in the river, I did not see any other water quality issues.

Well, I got skunked again on the nighttime catfishing on rod and reel. I only caught two bowfin. However, I did mop up on the bass on this trip. I caught 16 with the largest being almost 2½ pounds. All were caught on topwater lures. I caught and saw some of the biggest bream I’ve seen in a long time. I was catching them on the white-feathered tail hook of the topwater bass lure I was using. That’s how big they were. So if you want to catch some giant bream, I guess all you need is a No. 8 treble hook with white feathers on it attached to a bobber!

I got a call earlier in the week from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to come help out with a snagging (log removing) operation they were going to do on the Blackwater. I was really surprised when I was told the operation was only going to be for the part of the river below Franklin. Since the late 1990’s when tug operations ceased at the paper mill, fishing enthusiasts have been really happy to see the river below Franklin start looking like a river again with tree tops, logs etc. starting to accumulate in the river. The tug operations pretty much kept that type of structure from accumulating in the river. This type of structure is fantastic habitat for the riverine environment and really improved the fishery in the river.

So I tried to sell the idea to USACE that the lower part of the river really did not have that much of a log problem causing navigational hazards to boaters. Sure, there were some that needed removing. However, I told them that upriver of Franklin is where that huge lump of taxpayer’s money could be much better utilized. Removing all those log jams not only would certainly help with flooding issues for Franklin, but also seriously improve the recreational viability of the river. There are hundreds of people a year that do not fish, canoe or kayak on the upper river because it is way too tough a going for them. Just think of all that lost revenue, all that lost word-of-mouth advertisement about how nice that part of the river is, all those people that will never come here and spend money.

So yea, it kinda befuddled me after all the meetings with the USACE on flood control, all the money spent on studies for flood control, all the talk, talk and yet here we are and still since the 1999 flood, NOTHING has been done.

Yet here was the USACE now right here in the river for several days, but not to do the work where it really needed to be done. Anyway, I was told by the crew of the Elizabeth City that was an issue Congress had to fix. Bottom line is, it was a good opportunity missed to get some flood abatement work finally done. They (the crew) understood what I was talking about and in fact were ‘bout the best group of gov’t folks I ever did meet.

They understood about the habitat issue and while they had to remove some, for the most part they left the good stuff alone. It was really interesting watching and filming the operations. The snagging boat Elizabeth City was something to behold in the tiny river at 103 ft long and 30 ft wide. It gave me an idea of how big the gunboats were that came upriver in the Civil War. Some of the work those guys do is seriously dangerous and I could tell they really knew what they were doing. A very professional crew for sure. I know they could get the job done on the upper river with a smaller rig.

Maybe some day by a combined act of God and Congress we will get the help needed upriver on the Two Rivers we call the Blackwater and Nottoway.