Goats chew vegetation in Augusta detention pond

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Nine goats went to work Wednesday eating overgrown vegetation at an Augusta detention pond in a government pilot project intended to cut costs and help reduce mosquito breeding areas.

D.W. Williams, whose house overlooks the pond, welcomed the new arrivals to his subdivision, popular with current and former military members for its proximity to Fort Gordon's Gate 5.

"I think it's a great idea, most definitely," said Williams, who reported killing three snakes on his property since moving there over a decade ago. "I think it's a good idea because the city has a lot of ponds like that, areas it's not maintaining."

Augusta has more than 700 detention ponds scattered across the county and scant resources aside from occasional inmate labor to keep them all maintained, according to the city's Engineering Services department, which sent five workers Wednesday to ensure that a locked, barbed-wire fence around the property would keep the goats in and people out.

Modeled after similar efforts using goats or sheep to graze on unwanted vegetation in other cities, Augusta's goat project was suggested in January at a meeting of Richmond County Board of Health as a way to reduce mosquito breeding grounds.

Augusta Commission member Marion Williams, who serves on the health board, took the idea in May to the commission, which authorized the purchase of a few goats, although the animals were joined Wednesday by several others donated to Augusta Animal Services.

The goats were microchipped and the males neutered, and they cried out while being carried from an Animal Services truck to the pond area, where they immediately started grazing on vegetation.

"It's amazing how long it took the city to understand that we can do this," Marion Williams said.

So long as they're provided water, the goats won't be in harm's way, he said. Two signs warn against feeding or disturbing the goats and that violators will be prosecuted. The phone number of Augusta Animal Services is listed for anyone needing more information.

"You couldn't catch those goats," the commissioner said - even if an intruder climbed over the fence.

On Wednesday, Environmental Health Manager Randy Wishard said he recently measured the 2.8-acre site to calculate how fast the goats will work.

"We want to get an idea of what their consumption rate is," he said.

Fred Koehle, of Richmond County Mosquito Control, said that reducing vegetation "takes away hiding places" for mosquitoes to breed. He said the small accumulation of water at the base of the site was impossible for staffers to reach to treat for mosquitoes by other means.

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Information from: The Augusta Chronicle , http://www.augustachronicle.com

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