//Mayor Matheson Asks Public, Officials to Paddle Saturday

Mayor Matheson Asks Public, Officials to Paddle Saturday

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HAHIRA, Ga. – Since before Scott James Matheson was officially sworn in last Thursday as Valdosta’s new mayor, he had already been dedicated to seeing the city through its worst sewage spill on record.

Presiding alongside Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber at a public meeting last week for citizens to speak out and ask questions about the estimated 7.5 million gallon spill that took place in early December 2019, he opened the meeting saying he had “one vice,” and that was kayaks. He’s considered a “green” Mayor.

City Manager Mark Barber and Mayor Scott James Matheson at Public Meeting last week

When WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc.’s John S. Quarterman talked to him about the spill after it first happened, Mayor Matheson did not shrink away from what was to become the first, and perhaps his ultimate legacy, of his mayoral tenure. Matheson asked Quarterman to schedule a paddle, call it the “Mayor’s Paddle,” and the two projected that it would be held Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.

If the water tests by then reveal a decontaminated river, that is.

On WWALS Watershed Coalition Inc.’s website on January 13, 2020:

Water quality tests since last Wednesday are looking good for the Withlacoochee River in Georgia, and if those continue this Monday and Wednesday, it will be all clear to paddle with the new Mayor of Valdosta, Scott James, this Saturday, January 18, 2020.

“We’ll paddle by the site of the projected Troupville River Camp, supported by Valdosta and Lowndes County, Georgia, and Madison and Hamilton Counties, Florida,” said Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman. “We’ll also pass the outflow from Valdosta’s Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), which did not spill, although it is in a stretch of the river that was contaminated by Valdosta’s December 2019 record raw sewage spill.”

WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc. press release Jan. 13, 2020
[Movie: WWTP Outfall, 11:23:17, 30.83622, -83.35924 (15M)]
Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant outfall June 15, 2019

Mayor Scott James was quoted in Valdosta Today:

“The paddle was requested by me and John was gracious enough to organize it and call it the ‘Mayor’s Paddle.’ It is to show my commitment to zero tolerance for future spills and to show my love for our natural resources.”

Valdosta Today, “Citizens Air Concerns Over Record Sewage Spill

“The only way to dispell the stigma of sewage spills that affects the entire Suwannee River Basin, is frequent, regular, water quality sampling with published results,” added Quarterman. “The dozen-county Florida Rivers Task Force to deal with Valdosta sewage wants to promote cross-state-line eco-tourism. We should all be marketing our rivers. We are, with this paddle, and with Troupville River Camp. But we need a solid foundation of testing so we can say when the rivers are clean, and the few (we hope) times when they are not.”

WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc., parent organization of Suwannee Riverkeeper, will be collecting water quality samples this Wednesday at numerous points on the Withlacoochee River to have current results before the paddle. Lowndes County (which has its own sewer system, that did not spill) is sampling weekly. The Florida Department of Enviromental Protection (FDEP) and the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) are sampling downstream, and SRWMD has even sampled some sites well into Georgia. WWALS is publishing all this data, along with what data Valdosta has supplied in response to open records requests, online:

On the paddle, WWALS will be sampling above and below the WWTP outfall and at other locations along the route.

“Meanwhile, the recent rains have provided plenty of water in the river, several feet more than when we paddled the same route with 300 people in Paddle Georgia in June 2019, so we should have smooth sailing,” Quarterman said.

How To Paddle with the Mayor

To paddle, please arrive by 9AM, Saturday, January 18, 2020 so the paddling can begin by 10AM. You can just show up. However, expedition leader, Bobby McKenzie, likes to have some idea of how many people are coming. So if you can, please mark yourself as attending on the Facebook event or the meetup.

If you do not have a boat, please let us know in advance, and one can probably be provided for you. If you do have a boat, be sure to bring a personal flotation device and water and snacks for a day on the river.

This paddle is free to WWALS members and $10 for non-members. We will waive the fee for elected officials.

The put-in is Troupville Boat Ramp, 19664 Valdosta Hwy, Valdosta, GA 31602: on GA 133 off I-75 exit 18. in Lowndes County. Go west on GA 133 (St. Augustine Road) from Valdosta towards Moultrie. Soon you will see signs saying turn right for Val Del Road. Turn left instead, and that will take you to the boat ramp.

The paddle will take about six hours to go 11 river miles.

It water testing permits, the “Mayor’s Paddle” will take place Sat. Jan. 18

Due to the distinguished paddlers, WWALS has organized an intermediate takeout for those who do not wish to continue the entire distance. There will be Port-A-Potties there and at the takeout.

The takeout is Spook Bridge, slightly downstream from US 84. Thanks to the Langdale Company for access at both Spook Bridge and the intermediate location.

Before paddling, we will shuttle. This means we will drive most vehicles to the takeout, and pile into a few vehicles to return to the put-in. That way most people’s vehicles will be at the takeout when we paddle in.

Spook Bridge takeout

WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc., wants to thank The Langdale Company for permission to take out just below Spook Bridge.

You can help WWALS test water quality by donating to our WWALS water quality testing program. Suzy Hall, one of WWALS’ testers, is using lots of Petrifilms, which costs about $40/day after the latest spill.

Suzy Hall, WWALS tester, showing a Petrifilm used to test Knights Ferry
Petrifilms showing Knights Ferry test results from December 24, 2019

About WWALS: WWALS Watershed Coalition (WWALS), a 501(c)(3) educational charity, established 2012, advocates for conservation and stewardship of the Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little, Santa Fe, and Suwannee River watersheds in south Georgia and north Florida through education, awareness, environmental monitoring, and citizen activities. WWALS is the Waterkeeper® Alliance member for the Suwannee River Basin as Suwannee Riverkeeper®.

Contact: John S. Quarterman, Suwannee Riverkeeper, 229-242-0102, contact@suwanneeriverkeeper.org

Lowndes County has been proactive lately putting out signs at different points to warn citizens about the water contamination.