The Union Recorder

August 1, 2013

Area sees increase in river rescues

Felicia Cummings
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Chief Tom Dietrich of the Milledgeville Fire Department has noted a significant rise in the number of rescues at the Oconee River Greenway.  

The Oconee River Greenway is set up in a way that makes fishing, swimming and kayaking more assessable, but most people underestimate the power of the Oconee River currents, according to Dietrich. 

“It has always been a problem, but recently it has become an even bigger problem and it’s time we come together as a community to find a solution,” said Dietrich. 

The Milledgeville Fire Department rescued a group of teenagers July 16 after first responders received the emergency call. Two additional rescues have followed this week alone. Dietrich reports that Monday around 2:53 p.m., two people who were fishing found themselves trapped on the shoreline. Another rescue happened Tuesday around 3:30 p.m. when three people, also fishing, were picked up by a rescue boat.  

“People underestimate the strength of the currents,” said Dietrich. “When they find themselves trapped they want to try and swim to shore, but even a good swimmer can’t fight against the power of a current that strong. The best thing to do is to stay there until someone comes to get you.” 

Fire personnel are trained for situations of this nature and endure weekly training exercises to prepare them for anything Dietrich said. 

To address the problem, Dietrich has been actively attempting to assemble a committee to discuss the issue and possibly brainstorm ideas to decrease the number of rescues. 

“I’ve spent the past two days on the phone talking to different officials from Georgia Power and the Greenway, trying to set up a time and date for a dialogue,” he said. According to Dietrich, Georgia Power is the key player in the solution to the issue. 

“The currents are caused by the hydro plants. When the gates are open and the warning device is sounded, most people are not in locations in the river to hear the alarm,” he said. 

The waters become treacherous without warning and swimmers and fishers find themselves trapped in the current. 

Dietrich is still seeking interested officials from law enforcement, the Department of Natural Resources, as well as fire personnel who would like to be part of the committee and help look for answers. 

“I would like to get a meeting set up with all interested people within a three-week timeframe in order to give everyone enough time to put in on their calendars,” Dietrich said. 

Anyone from Georgia Power, Department of Natural Resources, local law enforcement agencies, and the Oconee River Greenway who is interested in being a part of the committee and has not already spoken to Dietrich is encouraged to contact him for further information. Dietrich can be reached at 478-288-0927.

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