Local city and county officials, law enforcement and first responders convened Thursday morning in a brainstorming session on possible solutions to decrease the number of rescues at the Oconee River Greenway and keep visitors safe.
The Milledgeville Fire Department rescued a group of teenagers July 16 after first responders received the emergency call. Two additional rescues were reported a couple of weeks later. The stretch of river between the Sinclair Dam and the bridge, known as the “Tail Race,” is where most rescues have happened. In 2011, a young man fell into the water during a family outing and was unable to overcome the current, drowning before he was able to reach the bank of the river.
“Every year there seems to be more and more rescues. In 2009 there was one rescue, in 2010 one rescue and four rescues in 2011, two of which were body recovery operations,” said Sgt. Thomas Bridgeman of the city fire department during a PowerPoint presentation. “This year, there have been four rescues so far with the possibilities of more to come. So far we’ve already had over 40 inches of rain on average, and that’s above average.”
Presently, the only warning to Greenway visitors of rising waters is two signs, one on the wooden fence next to the boat ramp and the other located in small print within The Greenway Project sign.
The idea of placing a horn at the Greenway forewarning visitors of the rising water levels in the area is one possible solution to the problem, just like the horn used by Georgia Power at Sinclair Dam warning visitors before the start of power generation.
Georgia State Patrol Sgt. John Bloodworth also suggested placing an “off limits” sign at the Mill House.
During normal conditions on the river, the boat ramp on the Greenway has an average of five feet to 15 feet of water depth. Below the foundation of the old river bridge, the water is an average of two feet deep with several sand bars sticking two feet out of the water.
According to Georgia Power, when power is being generated at a 90 percent level of production at Sinclair Dam, nearly 45,000 gallons of water is released every second. When a flood gate is opened, it is capable of flowing up to almost 75,000 gallons of water per second.
Those in attendance at the meeting included representatives from the Milledgeville and Baldwin County fire departments, the sheriff’s office, police department, city code enforcement, Department of Natural Resources, Georgia College and Georgia Military College safety personnel, Georgia Power and the Oconee River Greenway.
For up-to-date data regarding water levels at the Oconee River visit www.ga.water.usgs.gov.