Fishing: Sharpsburg out to float boat ramp project

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Allegheny River anglers know that Sharpsburg offers some of the best fishing in the three rivers system, but some of the poorest public access.

Sharpsburg councilman Larry Stellitano is asking the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to provide a permit and funding to develop a boat launch, parking lot and fishing pier in the quarter-mile stretch between 13th and 16th Streets. The project cost, he estimates, would be $400,000.

Besides cost, Sharpsburg has to leap other hurdles, including clearance as a non-historic site by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. But Greg Smith, manager of the Fish and Boat Commission's Technical Guidance Program, which helps municipalities with access development, deemed it a viable prospect.

"Only having one access point in Pittsburgh is ridiculous," said Smith, who receives e-mails from frustrated boaters. "It's bottlenecking your rivers."

The only other public launch ramp in the Pittsburgh pool is on the South Side near the Birmingham Bridge.

Although he is besieged by requests, mostly from municipalities, for access ramps, few sites end up on the short list. Smith makes final recommendations to the Fish and Boat Commission's engineering and development director.

"We're always looking, but trying to find suitable land is a real challenge," he said.

Smith indicated he is close to giving a green light to Braddock, where borough officials have designed improvements to the parking and launch ramp at the end of 11th Street on the Monongahela River at a cost of about $25,000. Most of the money would come from federal grant funds.

And he has just approved an overhaul of the ramp at Riverfront Park on the South Side. Work could begin this fall to widen the underwater ramp there to 40 feet by removing the bulkhead and dock and building a new dock and fishing pier 20 feet downstream.

The plan is to have the $100,000-plus renovation done by the 2005 Citgo Bassmaster Classic in July 2005.

Smith is currently reviewing sites at Springdale on the Allegheny, East Fredericktown and Monongahela on the Monongahela River, Shippensport on the Ohio in Beaver County and two dozen other locations statewide.

Smith has visited the Sharpsburg site and said he likes it.

"A funky wall already exists at Sharpsburg, so we could use what's there for a pier. We'll smooth it out, put a handicap railing up," he said.

The borough's design also includes improving an existing launch ramp at the end of 13th Street, adding parking and a turnaround, and installing a kayak hangar, said Stellitano, who mailed a survey by borough engineers to Smith on Friday. It shows that property beginning at the 13th Street tunnel and heading down river for about 300 yards is owned by the Norfolk and Southern Railroad and leased to a commercial marina operator.

That came as a disappointment but it won't interfere with the borough's plans, Stellitano said.

"Having that property would be nice but not having it won't stop us," he said.

Past problems with vandalism, dumping and underage drinking by the river also are being addressed, said Stellitano, a former borough policeman who believes a developed site would be easier to patrol.

Beyond the borough's control is whether the site has historic value, something the museum commission will determine.

"If they find dead Indians, we're in deep doo-doo," said Smith. "[The Commission] doesn't do digs. The borough could maybe get a university to do it, but we wouldn't pay for it."

Project funding is key and Smith indicated that the more a municipality can partner on a project, the better. Funding often comes from a combination of sources, including the federal government. Stellitano said the borough budget is tight, but vowed that, "if we get approval, we'll do whatever it takes. If Millvale did it, so can we. "

The Sharpsburg development would stop about one-eighth of a mile below Six Mile Island, just downstream of the Crow's Nest Restaurant, which operates a private marina and launch ramp on land it leases from the borough. A little further upriver, anglers can walk through a large tunnel or shimmy down a hillside to fish below the Highland Park Dam. Anglers have done this for decades because the fishing there is outstanding.

Fish and Boat Commission biologist Rick Lorson has called Sharpsburg one of the best tailrace fisheries in the entire three rivers system, after surveys in June showed large numbers of good-size smallmouth bass. Trophy size walleye are routinely caught there along with muskie and other game fish.

Larry Stellitano's brother Sam, owner of Memories Tackle Shop in Sharpsburg, is circulating a petition to muster support for the Sharpsburg plan.

"He's the one who really got the ball rolling because the fishing's so great, but it would also be a shot in the arm for Sharpsburg businesses," Larry Stellitano said. "The riverfront is really all Sharpsburg has."

Smith said he'll work up an actual cost estimate based on the design the borough gives him and it would be up to the borough to approach the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for Growing Greener funds, which the Fish and Boat Commission would match. Eventually, he said, both the Fish and Boat Commission and DCNR would seek reimbursement from the federal government for a large portion of the project cost.

In the meantime, Smith said he is always open to new requests.

Although most come from municipalities, individuals may also apply. The owner of a bar and restaurant in Greensboro on the Monongahela near the West Virginia border, for example, has offered to lease land to the Fish and Boat Commission for a $1 a year if the agency will help build fishing and boating access on the property. The request was approved at the Commission's summer board meeting two weeks ago.

For more on the Technical Guidance Program, visit


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