The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is wrestling over how to deal with sunken or abandoned boats and docks in Lake Lanier.
Basically, the corps’ lawyers have said the agency can’t use federal money to do any removal unless the vessel is “determined to be a hazard,” said Tim Rainey, the corps’ operations project manager at Lanier.
A legal document regarding the matter “is written primarily for navigation channels for commercial traffic, but it does mention fairways, or normal routes for boating traffic,” he said.
Final policy concerning the matter hasn’t been set and probably will be determined on a case-by-case basis, but the likely outcome — if the owner can’t be found and pressured to act — is to move the vessels or dock “to the nearest shoreline and just leave it there, to reduce the hazard,” Rainey said.
“The bottom line is, at some point and time in the future, the shoreline may be littered with abandoned boats and docks.”
The corps and other organizations, particularly the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association, have struggled for years with what to do with abandoned boats and docks on Lake Lanier. More than just unsightly, they can become safety and environmental concerns.
“What’s been the big problem is ... houseboats sit in marinas 30 years and all of the sudden, they start deteriorating and developing holes,” Rainey said.
“Someone decides it’s going to cost (them) $1,000 to dispose of it, so they just set it free. There’s no (vessel) registration to go by ... and we end up getting stuck with the bill.”
In June 2012, a case involving three sunken houseboats across from Laurel Park in North Hall wound up in U.S. Magistrate Court in Gainesville.
At one point, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division were notified, but “they cannot help us since there was and is no (gas) spill,” corps ranger Jack Taylor said at the time.
Eventually, the owner used a local company to remove the vessels with the help of barges and excavators.
The corps is dealing now with a sunken houseboat on Bald Ridge Creek in Forsyth County.
“We’re just putting some hazard markers on it,” Rainey said.
There are other cases the corps has dealt with, and getting responsible owners to pay for removal and just dealing with the issue have “been a pain,” Rainey said.
“I don’t think we should try to spend the taxpayer’s money to get rid of (an abandoned) boat — that’s just how it is,” he added.
Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, agreed that the problem “is a lingering issue” on Lanier.
The organization “is happy to help with these types of issues where and when we have the resources to do so,” she said. “We’ve been involved in four separate abandoned vessel issues in the past couple years, in terms of placing the abandoned vessel notice in the legal section of the local newspaper and working to get the vessels removed.”
Those efforts are made, however, only after approaching vessel owners and “pressuring them to handle the problem first.”
Frustrating for lake residents is that “there are no aesthetic standards that anyone has to abide by in terms of their personal property on Lake Lanier,” Cloud said.
“What may seem like an ugly eyesore to one person, or even a group of people, is not something that either the (corps) or the LLA is going to have any control over. The only time we can really pressure the owners is if there is a safety or environmental concerns in terms of gas or oil leaking from a vessel, or large chucks of debris breaking off of a dock.”
The association isn’t “going to get involved in all of these situations,” Cloud said.
“Some of this has to be property owners doing a little self-policing or even communicating among neighbors to help get the issue resolved.”