Several people expressed their dismay concerning the Wiggins public access boat ramp closing during Tuesday’s Emporia City Council meeting. The site closed on Nov. 1 and isn’t scheduled to reopen until June 30 due to workers’ efforts to rid the City’s ongoing problem of discolored water coming into residents’ homes.
Councilman Woody Harris brought the issue to the floor, seeking an alternative to shutting off access to the boat ramp. At the end of the evening, the City Council voted to direct the City approach leaders of the construction for a solution that would allow residents to use the site during the project’s construction phase.
Emporia City Manager William Johnson spoke with project leaders before Tuesday. Construction supervisors told Johnson the site needed to be shut down because the excavations of underground pipes and areas surrounding the ramp would be dangerous. Johnson was getting updates from leaders of the construction project. He said he would be sure to keep everyone updated on the progress.
Jim Sampson uses the site to launch his boat to go fishing regularly. He said he understands the importance of the project to improve the quality of water coming into Emporia homes. Sampson said the engineers could do the work without closing the access ramp.
“People that are avid fishermen like myself enjoy that river,” he said. “We come home from work. We go to the river. We put our boats in and have a good time for a short period because we all work. I’ve been a contractor for over 30 years, and I’ve had to work around obstacles, people moving about, entrance ways, equipment, buildings, and everything else. We managed to put up safety fences from silk fences to chainlink fences — whatever it takes to make the area safe. This is no different.”
Sampson said there is not much to do in Emporia, and taking away the ramp eliminates one of the few activities available for residents.
Robert Carroll of Jarratt said taking away access to the public boat ramp creates a financial issue. Heading to other fishing destinations pulls money from his wallet for traveling. Carroll said the timing of the ramp closing could not be worse.
“In 2021, I caught seven trophy bass between Jan. 1 and April 30,” he said. “It’s almost heart-wrenching to think that the entire winter fishing season is going to be taken away from us. The best (fishing) season is right now.”
Councilmember Yolanda Hines said the City needs to do a better job of educating the public on the project’s importance. Workers would remove brown water, and sediment from the water piped into homes in Emporia.
“I want to remind everybody why we’re doing this,” she said. “Everybody up here gets calls due to the condition of the water. We know we have pipes down in the ground that are hundreds of years old that we need to replace. This is just one step in a much larger project. If it can be resolved, I’m fine with that, but I think this is a top issue.”
Mike Allen works for the City of Emporia. Allen said the City needs to look into its liability if someone were injured using the site. Still, Allen wants to find a solution that allows people to use the boating access ramp.
“It’s the only access to fish above the dam, and it’s bad to close it,” Allen said. “I don’t know if there is a way to make access happen, but I think we should try if it is possible.”
The Meherrin River is available using the boat ramp under the Meherrin River Bridge on South Main St. or the Emporia Greensville Recreation Association Park. Those access sites do not resolve the issues, according to David Hobbs.
“You cannot access that river below the dam with a boat you can fish in,” he said. “The water is too shallow and too swift under that bridge. You can get a boat in at the recreation park if you get the mud out. It has not been cleaned out for over a year now.”
The City will again approach the construction leaders at the Wiggins public boat access site to seek a solution that would allow people to get their boats in the water during the construction phase of the project.
Until then, the access is closed for citizens wishing to launch their boats from the site.