The lower two miles of the St. Joe River passes through a large open-water area, including what is referred to as Round Lake to the north, Chatcolet Lake to the south and Hidden Lake to the west. Many old wooden pilings lining the navigable channel are the only indication as to where the boat passage is through this large open water area. These pilings do not clearly define the channel (as shown in Photo #1) and also present a significant safety hazard at night. There have been reports of numerous calls to help stranded boats that ran aground on the submerged berms that line the passage (former natural levees that have eroded away to below the summer water level), and from people complaining that they could not follow the navigable channels. The lack of Coast Guard-approved navigational aids, especially the lack of navigational lights, will also be more of a problem as boat traffic, both recreational and commercial, has been increasing substantially in recent years. So, while there is no current emergency situation, Tribal officials acknowledge that more boating problems will occur unless something is done.
During the fall of 2004, the Tribe’s Lake Management Department staff designed a project to improve navigation by replacing the existing pilings with Coast Guard-approved navigational aids. This effort would include pulling out or cutting off the existing pilings at the lake bottom surface. An effort to inventory the existing pilings found that there are 127 standing pilings and 55 more that are broken off at or near the summer water level (see Photo #2 and project area map).