Channel Markers Going Bye Bye

On inland waterways, commercial barge traffic is king. The amount of commercial traffic and tonnage of goods shipped largely determines how much federal support Washington will provide, from funding lock maintenance to navigational aids.

On 45,000-acre Lake Eufaula straddling the Alabama-Georgia border, the top-ranked bass fishing lake was the site of 75 bass fishing tournaments in 2014, including prestigious events hosted by Bassmaster, B.A.S.S. Nation, FLW, ABA, the Alabama Bass Trail, and even the Georgia Bass State Championship. However, all this economic activity is for naught, as Washington decides whether to shutter the local US Coast Guard Station and eliminate navigation markers on a lake known for its meandering channel, treacherous shoals and hazards.

The Associated Press reported that the Coast Guard already has reduced the number of channel-marking buoys and riverbank markers that help boaters stay in the channel between Eufaula and Columbus.

“We recognize commercial shipping’s impact on inland waterways but it shouldn’t be the only measure of boating activity,” said BoatUS Government Affairs Program Manager Nicole Palya Wood. “BoatUS believes that we need to ensure recreational boating is considered when looking at funding and channel maintenance, especially when it comes to navigation aids. While Eufaula hasn’t seen commercial barge activity in a long time, navigation markers not only keep boaters and anglers safe, they support the economic activity tournaments bring to these areas.”

According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Go Fish Education Center, a single large fishing tournament can contribute several million dollars to a local economy, while in economists at Plattsburgh State University in New York found that seven Lake Champlain bass tournaments brought in over $8.4 million in 2009.

On December 16th, 2014 President Obama signed the $1.1 trillion spending bill, providing funding through the end of the fiscal year for all government agencies except the Department of Homeland Security, which houses the US Coast Guard funding. Congress has until February 27, 2015, to pass a budget for this agency.

Wood notes that federal government has recently shown some recognition of recreational boating in budget items. Signed into law in June of 2013, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 allocated 10% of the total amount of expenditures that go to waterway operation and maintenance costs to emerging harbors, or those that ship less than one million tons of cargo annually. While these harbors and waterways may not carry the millions of tons of cargo of the bigger ports, they play a vital role in supporting recreational boating and commercial fishing.

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