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Popular public fishing piers to get litter cleaned up

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 50-yard walk to one of the state's most popular fishing spots passes by some disturbing scenery.

There's the plastic grocery bag sitting on the concrete walkway, filled with empty beer cans, empty energy-drink bottles and half-empty water bottles. There's a bird's nest of discarded fishing line. And there's a flotilla of soft-drink bottles, bobbing nearby in a quiet backwater.

Scenes like those might soon become eyesores of the past. State fisheries officials are negotiating to have trash picked up at the Kanawha River's Winfield, Marmet and London public fishing piers.

"All three of those facilities' licenses are up for renewal by Jan. 31, 2014," explained Kerry Bledsoe, federal licensing coordinator for the state Division of Natural Resources. "We have asked that litter pickup, portable toilets and adequate parking be written into the licensing agreements."

Bledsoe said American Electric Power, which owns the hydropower stations where the piers are located, "is pretty much in agreement" to provide those services.

Litter has been a problem at the piers for years, much to the chagrin of DNR officials.

"We get complaints," said Jeff Hansbarger, the agency's district biologist for the three popular Kanawha River fisheries. "We particularly get comments from people who want to take their kids or spouses fishing at those places and don't want to see a bunch of trash."

Under the facilities' previous licenses, there was no clear responsibility for litter pickup and disposal. Sometimes the power companies did it, and sometimes DNR personnel did it. Sometimes it didn't get done until the river rose and swept the piers clean.

"If we get a report of a major eyesore, and keep getting reports, we'll go down and do something about it," Hansbarger said. "It falls under 'other duties as described.' These piers are public resources, and we want them to remain appealing to the public."

As a whole, though, litter pickup at the piers has been of low priority, and Hansbarger believes that has diminished anglers' enjoyment.

"As a fisherman, you like to feel you're the first one there. When you see a tin can or a bait container, it kind of spoils it for you," he said.

Ideally, he added, anglers would pick up after themselves.

"It kind of starts at home," he said. "If they can carry Styrofoam worm containers in there filled with dirt and worms, they should be able to carry them out empty."

When the new licenses go into effect, AEP will become responsible for keeping the piers clean.

"Either AEP will have their own personnel to do it, or they'll [hire] people to come in and get it done," Bledsoe said. "And I'm confident they'll do it. If they didn't, they would be out of compliance with their [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] license, and the commission takes very seriously the upholding of these license agreements."

He said litter-pickup provisions written into licenses renewed within the last 10 to 20 years have created much cleaner conditions at the Ohio River's Belleville and Hannibal piers.

He expects the same thing to happen at the three Kanawha River facilities.

Although Jan. 31, 2014 is when the old licenses expire, Bledsoe said it's possible that new agreements might go into effect somewhat sooner than that.

"FERC usually runs a little ahead of schedule," he said.

And once the agreements are in effect, anglers at the piers should have a long time to enjoy the cleaned-up surroundings.

"The Winfield, Marmet and London agreements will be for 50 years," Bledsoe said. "That's why it was important to get what we wanted up front. You only get one shot at this in a career, and we wanted to make sure the angling public benefited from it."

Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmccoy@wvgazette.com


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