Public access of part of Savannah River in question - WFXG FOX54 Augusta - Your News One Hour Earlier

Public access of part of Savannah River in question

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Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus is extremely frustrated that the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Champion's Retreat Golf Course are now telling her an offshoot of the Savannah River is now off limits for the Benderdinker paddling festival. It's a stark contrast to years past.

"When they were going to get their permit, which they were approved to get last year, all of a sudden they had to get private property owner's approval," said Bonitatibus.

The issue in question here is whether or not this branch of the Savannah is considered navigable.

"Of course it's a navigable waterway, it's part of the Savannah River!" said Bonitatibus.

So I took that question to federal and state authorities. Georgia DNR and the Army Corp of Engineers both have jurisdiction over the waterway.

"We the Corp of Engineers determined and considered all the water there around that island as navigable waters of the united states," said spokesman Billy Birdwell.

DNR has yet to return my phone calls, but in a statement to the Augusta Chronicle in 2004, a spokesperson said that the state considered that particular channel as "public" and that it can be "accessed publicly from boat landings."

Aboard the riverkeeper's large motor boat, we made it through that segment without running aground. She says that's what has her so frustrated.

"If we get to a position where we allowing people to take away the public's rights, there is no difference between that and them saying all of those fish in the waterway belong to them," said Bonitatibus.

Bonitatibus says she'll take this to court if she has to.

"I have every intention of taking it that far," she said.

She says she is adamant, however far this goes, to defend what she says is the public's right to use this water.

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