By NIKKI ROWELL
Sun Staff Writer
Rodney Barbour and his granddaughter Stella were enjoying a fun day on the Ross Barnett Reservoir. Stella was taking a ride on the tube, pulled behind her grandfather’s boat.
Safe, family-friendly activities like this are typical in the summer on the reservoir. However, how safe is it?
Residents are beginning to question this, especially Barbour, as Stella narrowly avoided a serious injury due to steel reinforcement rods being placed in the reservoir.
According to Pearl River Valley Water Supply District (PRVWSD) Executive Director John Sigman, the reinforcement bars, or rebar, is used by some reservoir visitors to mark fishing spots or logs underneath the surface.
However, this is a crime and is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Stella nearly suffered a serious injury to her face, all so a local fisherman could mark a good fishing spot.
“He just missed one of those things and didn’t even know it was there,” Sigman said. “There’s something that could obviously hurt a person, but it will also slice a fiberglass boat right in two.”
And the repairs to those boats are costly. Sigman was recently approached by a man who has to make $5,000 worth of repairs to his boat after he hit a piece of rebar in the reservoir that was submerged.
“He hit it, and he was idling,” Sigman said. “He couldn’t get off it. When he got off, he had a big repair job ahead of him.”
People also use them to mark logs under the surface of the water. But he said the strong, metal bars create a worse situation for boaters than the logs, according to Sigman..
“The logic behind somebody who thinks that it’s safer to mark a stump with a piece of metal is just befuddling,” said PRVWSD Executive Administrator Cindy Ford.
This is an ongoing issue that Sigman said has been causing problems for boaters for years.
Several thousand pieces have been removed from the lake and disposed of.
Sigman said most of the rebar they have found has been in the upper half of the lower lake, but that there is rebar in all segments of the lake.
“There are boaters and fishermen who feel like they need to mark certain spots in the lake, whether it’s a stump they don’t want to hit or it’s a good fishing spot or a place where they have put down a catfish house,” Sigman said. “It is absolutely dangerous.”
Sigman said that much of the rebar is not visible to boaters as they navigate through the water, as the level of the lake fluctuates.
“You may put it in and it sticks six inches up today, but if you come back tomorrow, it may be underwater because the lake has risen,” he said. “That happens all the time.”
As for those marking fishing spots, Ford pointed out that smart phones have the capability to mark a location or map coordinates. So, instead of putting a dangerous piece of rebar in the water, one could mark his or her location using a smart phone and not put others in danger.
“These fishermen could mark it themselves and not deal with any of this and have their secret fishing spots,” Ford said.
The reservoir also has an outstanding offer that if anyone sees something they need to be marked in the water, someone will go out and look at it and if it needs to be marked, we will put a buoy on it.”
“A boat can hit a buoy and not be damaged,” Sigman said. “But yet, there are people who are insistent that they put rebar in the water. We need to find them and talk to them. They need to understand that first, it’s illegal. And it is very, very dangerous.”
Sigman suspects that the culprits are those who use the lake routinely. However, he said they have an ongoing program to remove rebar.
Rebar is cleaned up each week. It is also collected as residents report it.
“We will pull it up,” he said. “It takes a substantial boat to remove it, and we have one. But we will go out the next week and someone has replaced them. It’s frustrating.”
He wants to encourage those who see anyone placing rebar in the reservoir to call the Reservoir Police and report them or take a photo with their registration number on the boat so that they can go talk with them.
“We will go talk to them and try to convince them what they are doing is dangerous,” Sigman said. “You hit something like that going 60 miles per hour, it’s just like a knife going through your boat. If you drive over it slow, it’s going to cause damage.”
Barbour addressed the Parks Policy Committee on Tuesday about this issue and made suggestions to the committee about how to address it and solve the problem.
He suggested that there be more information made available to the public about this crime and more signage posted.
PRVWSD created signs to post warning of the penalty for putting rebar in the water. Barbour offered to design the signs for free to help out.
“It is a crime,” Sigman said. “It’s against the regulations, and it is a crime.”