Pagan River carves a new channel

Published 5:23 pm Tuesday, August 20, 2019

By John Edwards


The Pagan River channel through Bob Shoal has been dredged and re-dredged down through the years, beginning back in the days of the steamboats.

Recently, though, the river has cut a new, and possibly more logical, path on its way to the James, bypassing the dogleg-shaped Bob Shoal transit.

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The Army Corps of Engineers confirmed the shift during a survey of the river back in March, according to that agency’s public affairs staff, and alerted the Coast Guard.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“Based on recent surveys, we realized that the channel has been shifting. We are working with the Coast Guard and NOAA to make sure that markers align with the shift,” said spokesman Vince Little of the Army Corps.

The change in markers was made several weeks ago and boaters transiting Bob Shoal found that the light atop Navigation Aid No. 16 had been removed and replaced by two signs declaring “Danger – Shoal.”

Instead of the old channel, boaters now heading downriver pass Green marker No. 17 and continue in a more easterly direction, passing two temporary red markers and one green one on their way out of the river. The second of the two red markers appears to have a light atop it, but efforts to reach the Coast Guard to confirm the marker is lighted were unsuccessful.

Brian and Randy Pack did their own survey after learning about the marker changes.

“There’s a lot of water over there” in the newly marked channel, Brian Pack said. “At low tide, it averages eight feet.”

A look at a Pagan River chart might lead to speculation that the “new” channel makes more hydrologic sense than the old, for it roughly follows the outside curve of the river through that shallow area. Rivers tend to cut channels to the outside of curves and shoal up on the inside.

It also raises the question of whether the old channel was ever the “natural” flow of the river or whether it was a more-or-less straight line dredged through the shoal a century ago for large steamboats that were the mainstay of local commerce at that time.

Back in those days, steamboat captains used “range markers” to set straight-line courses from one section of channel to the next, and early Army Corps records indicate there were more than a half dozen range markers on the Pagan.

As to whether the old Bob Shoal channel was ever totally natural, however, there’s no one left to ask. Natural or not, it’s now abandoned.  {/mprestriction}