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Buford Dam protest a washout

Organizer leaves after an hour when ‘float-in’ draws only four

POSTED: October 31, 2007 5:07 a.m.

BUFORD -- It wasn't what Patrick Callaghan had in mind.

The Flowery Branch truck driver who called for a protest of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' water release policies at Buford Dam said Saturday he was overwhelmed with the public safety presence and underwhelmed by the turnout of concerned citizens.

In the end, Callaghan, who earlier said he would keep his kayak floating in the lower pool after warning horns sounded for a release from the dam, spent less than an hour in the 40-degree water. "I've made my point," Callaghan said. "I'm just not going to waste all this taxpayer money."

At least 25 local and federal public safety officials were on hand for the scheduled 8 a.m. protest, including corps rangers, Gwinnett police, Forsyth sheriff's deputies and swiftwater rescue team members from the Forsyth County Fire Department.

Another 15 or so members of Atlanta-area news media watched as Callaghan, 37, and three young men from his neighborhood put their kayaks in the frigid waters of the Chattahoochee shortly after 9 a.m.
Forsyth County Fire Battalion Chief Tony Chapman said the demonstration cost the county $1,000 to pay three of his 12 rescuers overtime.

Chapman said emergency workers didn't know how many protesters would show up, and so they turned out in force. "We were told to expect between one and 500 people," Chapman said about 10:30 a.m. "Now we've turned it into a training exercise."

Few, if any, supporters were on hand to watch the four kayakers float lazily in the calm morning waters. Several people who came to use the park looked on curiously.

"I don't really know what (the protest) is all about," said Seth Jones, 18.

Callaghan said he learned Friday night that the next scheduled water release wouldn't occur until 7:45 p.m. Saturday. Mark Williams, the Army Corps of Engineers' chief ranger for Lake Lanier, said the scheduling of Saturday's water release was not based on the anticipated protest.

"It's been done in the evening for the last several days," Williams said.

Corps rangers said they strictly enforce the park's regular closing hour of 5 p.m.

Before he entered the water, Callaghan indicated he would stay in until forced to leave. But he soon changed his mind.

"In all honesty, I'm still prepared as ever to stay for six weeks," Callaghan said after coming to shore shortly after 10 a.m. "But the balancing point is how realistic is that, and what I'm costing folks."

Callaghan added that authorities were "courteous and professional" in the dealings he had with them.
Earlier, in impassioned remarks to a throng of reporters on the park's boat ramp, Callaghan said, "I am asking the president of the United States to please ask the government to stand down. Please ask them to let me stay here."

Callaghan was protesting the corps' daily release of some 3 billion gallons of water into the Chattahoochee during a historic drought in Northern Georgia.Williams, the chief ranger, said he issued Callaghan a warning citation for holding an event on federal property without a permit shortly after 8 a.m. Williams said the corps decided to let the event to go forward after giving the warning.

"I have been assured this will be conducted in an orderly manner," Williams said.

But with little turnout, no bullhorns or placards, the planned demonstration became little more than a few kayakers paddling around the lower pool, except for the dozens of police cars, ambulances and fire trucks in the parking lot.

"I was really hoping folks would make a presence today and really get loud about it," said Callaghan, who publicized the protest on a Web site and flyers. "I'm really disappointed."



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