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Rewriting the book on Lanier

Water control manuals set for long-awaited revision as lake advocates see hope with stimulus

POSTED: May 3, 2009 12:01 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Buford Dam is one of the facilities that will be improved with stimulus money.

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Plenty of physical improvements appear on the way for Lake Lanier and Buford Dam, thanks to millions pouring in from federal stimulus money.

But the one project that excites many lake advocates the most has nothing to do with park improvements or shoreline fixes.

It has more to do with breathing life into an old document.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Mobile District, which governs the lake, announced Tuesday it will get $293 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, with about $8.3 million for Buford Dam and Lake Lanier.

And $3 million of that would go to complete an update of the manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin. The money would cover a study of "water supply, recreation, hydropower, flood damage reduction, navigation, and fish and wildlife" in the basin.

"That, to us, is extremely exciting. (The manual) is close to 50 years old and definitely needs to be updated," said Jackie Joseph, president of the Lake Lanier Association.

Sally Bethea, director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, agrees.

"Today's needs and usages, from the standpoint of water supply and what they're operating on based on the old (manual), is not really adequate, nor is it really applicable to today's usage." Bethea said.

"We know more now, certainly, about the river system than we did 10, 20, 30 years ago. We understand how much more fragile it is, and how many people, communities and wildlife depend on the river from the top to the bottom.

"We need to make sure the corps does a really thorough job of (completing) a process that's scientifically driven."

Stacey B. Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau, said her group is optimistic about the study's findings.

The initiative "will focus for the first time on the economic impact of recreation on our lake, which was so greatly impacted by the recent low lake levels," she said.

"Once the study is complete, we'll have tangible figures for the tourism value the lake represents. We are also anxious to see the recommendations concerning future water releases from the lake."

Last week, the corps decided to resume regular water discharges from Buford Dam into the Chattahoochee River, a move that upset two Lake Lanier advocacy groups, especially given the lake's water level rise from several months of healthy rainfall.

Val Perry, executive vice president of the association, said he would like to see the corps to consider raising the lake's full pool to 1,073 feet above sea level, from 1,071 feet, as part of the manual update.

As of Thursday afternoon, the lake stood at 1,063.88 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"It would give us an additional reservoir in this state of between 26 and 30 billion gallons (of water)," Perry said.

In a pre-arranged event, Pete Taylor, chief of staff for the corps' Mobile District, is set to speak at the Lake Lanier Association's annual membership meeting Tuesday night in Dawsonville.

Overall, the corps has identified 172 projects in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, five geared toward construction and 167 toward operations and maintenance.

"We anticipate awarding the first contracts for these projects within 45 days," said E. Patrick Robbins, public affairs officer for the Mobile District.

"We will use a variety of contracting methods to get the projects under way as rapidly as possible. Some will be accomplished by using existing operations and maintenance contracts and some will be new contracts."

Also, the corps will hire temporary workers "at some of our projects to accomplish the work," Robbins said.

The projects must meet several requirements, including that they can be completed quickly, result in immediate hiring and "provide a useful service that does not require additional funding."

Twelve projects are set for Buford Dam and Lake Lanier and seven for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin, according to the corps' list.

The Buford Dam/Lake Lanier projects focus mainly on maintenance and operations projects, including repainting a powerhouse and repairing roads that are becoming a safety hazard.

Frequent camper Libby Grizzle of Dahlonega said she was glad to hear about the funding boosts.

"Any improvements would be great. This is already a nice park," said Grizzle, who was spending a few days at the corps' Bolding Mill Campground in northwest Hall with her husband and two grandchildren.

Lisa Coghlan, deputy public affairs officer with the corps, said all the stimulus projects have received some funding through the Energy and Water Development Act. No project on the list is new.

"The corps will continue to allocate funding provided in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act and will consider these projects for additional funding in the 2010 and future budgets," she said.

Perry said he appreciates the financial boost but would like to see some money restored for local corps operations that have been cut because of budget constraints.

"The ranger staff is probably half of what it was five years ago," he said. "They have had to shut some beaches down; they've had to shut down some parks."

Perry doesn't hide his support for Lake Lanier.

"We've got the crown jewel of the state here," he said.




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