Boat ramp

Professional fisherman and firefighter Wayman Coleman was among the people who signed up to speak Tuesday at a Greenwood County Council meeting about the proposed new location for a boat ramp to Lake Greenwood beside Highway 72/221.

County council cast their lines out Tuesday evening, reeling in opinions from fishermen, business owners and lake enthusiasts of all kinds, speaking out in favor or against building a new public access point to the water at the Highway 72/221 bridge over Lake Greenwood.

Early on in the meeting, Greenwood County Council Chairman Steve Brown opened the floor for a public hearing, first allowing County Engineer Rob Russian to explain the goals with a new, public lake access point.

As part of the capital projects sales tax, $810,000 were earmarked for making improvements to the lake, and the Lake Master Plan Committee was formed to help decide the county’s long-term goals for its aquatic resource. One of their highest-identified priorities, Russian said, was public access.

The committee toured access areas along the South Carolina and Georgia border, noting that successful access points had ample parking for boat trailers, bathrooms and other amenities and facilities that could be used for recreation. When thinking about access to Lake Greenwood, however, Russian said one element jumped out at him.

“In my mind, it’s all about location. Location, location location,” he said. “We really want to target the middle of the lake.”

With ramps at the Lake Greenwood State Park and two near Buzzards Roost covering the south end and two other ramps near the north end of the lake, the central area has been left without access, he said.

The site the committee identified for a new boat ramp is a 2.9-acre stretch of land beside Highway 72/221 and would share an entrance from the highway with Break on the Lake. There, Russian said an access point could fit about 50-60 parked boat trailers, with enough space for two ramps and possible bathrooms, pavilions and other facilities.

Through the process, Russian said he’d heard some concerns regarding the possible ramp. He said some have asked why money isn’t being spent to install amenities at existing ramps, and he said he’d like to see some of the money go to that. Congestion on the lake was a top concern.

“This is probably one of the largest concerns around this proposed boat ramp,” he said. “Boat capacity on the lake is very subjective.”

He said a fisherman out for the day might want to see fewer boats around, while someone partying on a pontoon might not mind other boaters nearby. A boat count during Lights on the Lake noted about 280 boats and personal watercraft on the lake, and Russian said assuming a comfortable capacity of 15 acres of water per boat, max capacity on the lake is 528 boats. During Lights on the Lake, Lake Greenwood was at about half capacity, he said.

Heather Vahjen, with Connect Lake Greenwood, was first up to speak. She shared with council that the group put out a survey and respondents voted more than 2-to-1 in favor of the boat ramp. Kevin Prater, managing partner at Break on the Lake, said there’s a need for a ramp there, despite critics saying there’s a ramp across the bridge on the Laurens County side of the lake.

“If you ask anybody who’s been over there, it’s not a good place to put your boat in,” he said.

One of the goals in the lake master plan is to make the Highway 72/221 bridge feel like the “Main Street of Lake Greenwood,” said Jimmy Peden, who served on the master plan committee. But Beth Satterfield, who lives on Pebble Lane near the proposed site, said developing that lot would disturb critical habitats and construction could harm the pristine lake that Greenwood takes so much pride in.

The other ramps and access points would be more popular, Grant Blair said, if the county spent this money building amenities and upgrading existing sites.

Several people spoke in favor of the site, citing its potential for use in fishing tournaments. Greg Sorrow said the Upstate has more than 30 high school fishing teams, and tournaments can bring in hundreds of boats, along with relatives of the competitors who are coming to cheer them on. Jeff Graham, whose son fishes for the Ninety Six High School Wildcat Anglers, said there’s a great need for a new ramp with complete amenities.

“It’s a problem when you drive two hours to a fishing tournament and there’s nowhere to use the bathroom,” he said.

Tournaments, he said, could have a major economic impact, with visitors spending cash on lodging, food, fishing equipment and other expenses. When a recent championship tournament brought about 80 boats and somewhere between 450-600 people to the state park’s ramp, Graham said he was elated to see the attention it brought to Greenwood.

“The sad part of that story is we were told when they left that the Palmetto Trail would not be returning to Lake Greenwood,” he said.

That ramp had no cellphone service for the tournament to live-stream the weigh-in, didn’t have enough parking for guests and had limited amenities. A new ramp could bring in tournament attention, he said. As Kelly McWhorter with Discover Greenwood said, from 2016-2019, fishing tournaments had an estimated $1 million economic impact on Greenwood — a figure that could grow with more access.

Other critics asked why a ramp couldn’t be built at another location to avoid traffic on the highway, or if the county wants to commercialize the lake rather than help preserve its natural beauty. In the end, council heard from everyone and will vote on whether to move forward at their next meeting. The next step, if approved, would be to send out a request for proposal for designers to actually plan out the details of the proposed site.

In other business:

Council voted to authorize the third and final reading of one or more fee-in-lieu of taxes and special source revenue credit agreements dealing with the solar farm projects by Pine Gate Renewables LLC.

Council unanimously voted to accept ownership of about an acre of land on Carter Road, which will be used for a new volunteer fire station.

By unanimous vote, council approved moving forward with an intergovernmental agreement dealing with a joint medical examiner service for multiple area counties.

Council approved a resolution transferring funds from the special appropriation fund to the EMS operating fund, to allow interim EMS Director Derek Oliver to remount ambulances.

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.