Gators on the move?

News 12 at 11 / Monday, June 9, 2014

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW) -- If you live in this area, you probably root for gamecocks, tigers, or dawgs, but tonight some are asking you to stand up for gators.

We're not talking football. We mean real gators. You might have noticed them at North Augusta's Brick Pond Park, but as new development moves in, those gators might have to move out.

The biggest question is if they're not going to be at Brick Pond Park, where will they be?

They're pre-historic reptiles people are curious to see, but usually from a pretty good distance.

"Alligators have been here since before people, and this is their home," Wade Gassman said.

Gassman is a daily visitor to Brick Pond Park, a guaranteed home of gators.

"There's probably 25 ranging up to 10-12 feet," he said.

As a "jurisdictional wetland," the ponds are protected space, but the land right up next to it is not, and North Augusta has big plans for the gators' neighbors.

First, they're working on a 150-million-dollar public-private venture that would bring a baseball stadium, a parking garage, and a luxury hotel to the riverfront. Also on its way, medical billing company Medac, which will use a parking deck already planned for Project Jackson.

As Medac and Project Jackson move in, the gators are going to have to move out, and the Savannah Riverkeeper says they might make the Savannah River their new home.

"It's possible you'll see an increase in the rive,r but it's probably more likely they'll end up being killed," Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said.

The City of North Augusta says even with Project Jackson, all three ponds in Brick Pond Park will be maintained, but the strip of land that buffers it to the road is slated for light retail and offices. That's something that concerns frequent pond visitors.

"That is where the biggest alligators seek sanctuary," Gassman said. "If Project Jackson goes through, the destruction, complete destruction on that side of the wildlife of the park will create a serious problem between alligators and people."

Knowing how much gators don't like being around people, North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover is hoping they'll move out of the way once construction starts, but he says they are working to keep some sort of buffer between those potential offices and the ponds.

In the past, we've already seen experts having to move gators to safer locations, usually farther downstream.

This weekend there's actually a chance to swim in the river. Saturday morning you can participate in the Gatorfest swim race. The Riverkeeper says the name is a joke, since there are gators in the river, but they will not bother you.