Several groups are working to close a 1930s waterway to help restore habitat in a vast network of tidal creeks among the marshes on the northern bank of the Satilla River estuary.
Noyes Cut, a more than 100-year-old man-made waterway connecting Dover Creek and the Satilla River, was hand dug in 1910 to float logs from the Lampadosia area to market. In 1933, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers widened and deepened the cut as part of the Inland Waterway. Just seven years later, however, the Alternate Intracoastal Waterway was constructed through the lower reach of Dover and Umbrella creeks, making Noyes Cut obsolete.
Through the years, Noyes Cut became wider and deeper all on its own, with the eroded sediment causing severe shoaling and narrowing in the upper reach of Dover and Umbrella creeks. Today, officials say, Noyes Cut is approximately 450 feet wide and more than 10 feet deep at low tide.
One man who is helping lead the charge is Clay Montague, associate professor emeritus, department of environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida.
Montague, who is also past interim Satilla Riverkeeper (2012) and a current board member of the Satilla Riverkeeper, spoke Sept. 4 at the Glynn Environmental Coalition’s First Friday lunch gathering.
“Shoaling has severely narrowed many portions of the creek and limited low tide access by boaters and fishers,” Montague said. “Since 1935, local citizens have complained about the continuously decreasing access. Access is particularly restricted near the south side of Dover Bluff, Piney Bluff and River Marsh landing, as well as the four other cuts in the upper reach.
“There are eight artificial cuts in the Dover and Umbrella Creek system,” he said.
Three are Intracoastal Waterway cuts in the lower reach of the system.
“Those three are not obsolete, and along with a fourth there, they do not seem to be impacting habitat and shoaling as much as the four in the upper reach,” Montague added.
In the mid-1980s, the Corps made plans to close Noyes Cut and Bull Whirl Cut. The U.S. Congress authorized the closure and allocated funding, but complete funding was not forthcoming and the project was de-authorized. The project can be completed now under the Corps’ Alternate Intracoastal Waterway.
The USACE is embarking on a two-year feasibility study to restore habitat and access within Dover and Umbrella creeks by closing Noyes Cut. Federal and state funding will be used equally to pay for the $1 million study. The Satilla Riverkeeper and the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are co-sponsoring the project.
In the study, the USACE will apply simulation modeling procedures to the Satilla River estuary to determine likely hydraulic changes should Noyes Cut be closed. Montague says they will also likely simulate closures of other cuts as well.
The Satilla Riverkeeper and the Coastal Resource Division estimate that 10,000 acres of tidal marshland and 50 miles of tidal creek are impacted by Noyes Cut.
Coastal fishery managers believe that such habitat is primarily accountable for commercial and recreational fishing that adds to $240 million per year to Georgia’s economy.
“A small improvement in habitat can pay for itself in a few years and make a significant contribution thereafter,” Montague said.
“All three groups will cooperate to oversee the study and to evaluate the model results and then compare alternatives. Interested persons from the general public will also be involved as study results are released.”
The Georgia Water Coalition and Sen. William Ligon are also behind the project.
“Public support and local approval of this project are essential,” he said.
“The likelihood that the restoration efforts will take place increases when both the local community and a responsible party was restoration. Closing Noyes Cut seems like such an opportunity.
“That’s why the Satilla Riverkeper and the river committee of the Dover Bluff Club have intensively promoted this study, now set to begin.”
The study could take about two years to complete. In the meantime, all three groups plan to keep the public informed as the study progresses.
The Satilla Riverkeeper held another information meeting Tuesday night at the Dover Bluff Club House for people who live in the area.
Anyone who would like to stay up-to-date on the study can contact the Satilla Riverkeeper for more information at riverkeeper@SatillaRiverkeeper.org.