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Andrews Island conditions a concern
BY ANNA FERGUSON
Every few weeks, Gene Keferl tries to stop by Andrews Island and take in a view of the wildlife. Though the island near downtown Brunswick was originally built from spoil, in the decades since its creation, it has become a birding hot spot.
Always on the lookout for new feathered critters, Keferl remains eager to see just what species are visiting the island. In spring, he often sights herons, egrets and roseate spoonbills. During fall and winter, Keferl has spotted both Nelson and saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrows. And on very good days, he has even spotted a loon or two.
Andrews Island was once used by the Army Corps of Engineers as a deposit site for dredge spoil from area waterways, such as St. Simons Sound and the Brunswick Harbor. The island's rich soil, made thick from years of dumping, provides safe zones for nesting birds, and the multitude of flies and mosquitoes provide plenty of food for wildlife. Although a small causeway connects the island to the mainland, the area is gated and off-limits to the public. But, Keferl said, from certain spots on the mainland and by boat, the island offers ideal views for spotting birds.
"It's a really special place," said Keferl, treasurer of the Coastal Georgia Audubon Society. "A number of birds make this a stop over on their migration routes. Fisherman and shrimpers use the island a lot, too. It really is an important island."In recent years though, this vital wildlife habitat has become neglected and fallen into a state of disrepair, said James Holland, a conservation activist for the Altamaha Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog group. Declining conditions on the island were brought to Holland's attention last year. Upon closer examination, Holland found what he said were numerous violations to the Marshland Protection Act and Better Management Practices code.
On the west end of the island, a drain pipe with no splash controls was allowing spoil water to run off into the harbour. Chunks of marsh grass, mud and spartina were breaking off from the ground and were polluting Academy River.On the island's east side, near Turtle River, Holland cited large cuts in the marsh that have altered the elevations and cut off the flow of water.In the same area, Holland said he also found holes filled with stagnant water and several instances of dead and dying marsh grass, as well as unnatural alterations to upland vegetation and flora.
During his most recent visit to the island, just this month, Holland said he documented additional findings of decay on top of the problems he cited last summer. In the 12 months since he first found and reported these instances of neglect, no corrective actions have been taken to rectify the situation, said Holland. "It's just continued to worsen.
There are enough violations here to put someone in jail," Holland
"Much like Holland, Keferl, too, has seen the island fall into neglect. The island is filing up with sediment and dredge, and is often used as a public dumping ground, though attempts are made to keep the area gated from the public, Keferl said. And though he has never had any instances of trouble, Keferl said he is hesitant to recommend the site to birding friends because of personal safety concerns.
"It's a very isolated place; you never know what could happen," he said. "I wouldn't let my friends go by themselves."Neglect on Andrews Island does more than dissuade bird watching.
It is having real and significant ramifications on the area ecosystem, Holland said. "These problems are taking a toll on migratory birds and the woody vegetation of the island," Holland said.
"The Corps is supposed to be taking care of this island and they have had a year, plenty of time, to correct it. But they aren't and it is having a serious impact on the area's wildlife.
Something needs to be done, and fast."The Corps of Engineers, though, disputes the claims that it has mismanaged and ignored the island. Alan Garrett, a civil works project manager with the Corps who oversees the island, said the complaints received from Holland either are currently being worked on or have already been addressed.In the past year, seeds have been planted throughout the island to spur wildlife and vegetation, six acres of marsh grass have been planted and filter fabric has been erected to halt erosion, Garrett said.
To further address the issue of mud washouts, a dyke will be raised on the western end of the island in coming months. Bids on that project are already under way, Garrett said.
"I thought all the concerns and damages had already been taken care of," Garrett said. "We're working to repair the marsh and we've pretty much got it all fixed. I think we were doing OK."During Holland's most recent trip to the island, he was unaware of the dyke raising as well as plans the Corps has for the site. In the coming weeks, Garrett said he has plans to meet with Holland on the island and go over any damages and neglected areas they find. "If something needs to be fixed, we'll fix it," Garret said.