Time was no big issue for retiree John Barker, who lives on the Chestatee River arm of Lake Lanier at the Hall-Lumpkin County line.
Still, he didn’t expect his personal mission involving a neglected houseboat near his house would take as long as it did, tearing months off the calendar.
“I’m thinking this is a no-brainer,” he said, recalling those days.
But it became a brain beater — and a hand-wringer — for Barker.
He eventually joined forces with the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association and finally got the issue resolved after lengthy red tape and meetings with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others.
The vessel was removed in February, some two years after Barker started the quest.
The experience has made Barker a key player in the association’s efforts to remove abandoned vessels and docks from Lanier. And this is serious business for the association, as the lake is the 38,000-acre waterfront home to thousands of metro Atlantans and a recreation magnet for millions each year.
The group’s executive director, Joanna Cloud, keeps a careful record of all vessels and docks, many of which are either sunk or sinking fast, and the progress made on each one’s removal.
And she also presses the corps on the matter and, along with other association members, scours the shoreline while riding in a boat on the waters.
“These vessels and docks are a blight on our community,” Cloud said during a recent tour of the neglected sites in a boat piloted by Barker. “They affect water quality — the boats, especially — as they deteriorate. They’ve got batteries, oil and gasoline in them.
“And this is our reservoir, our drinking water for 4 million-plus people.”
Another worry is safety for recreation.
“Also, as these things get into the water, they become boating hazards, or they break off and you’ve got pieces floating out. Or you hit one of those things with your (boat) propeller and you’ve got tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage or ... bodily injury.”
As of last week, Cloud’s latest “project” count is nine docks and nine vessels that have fallen into disrepair and have become eyesores.
Of the 18 total, two are in Dawson County, two are in Forsyth County and 14 are in Hall County. Of the 14 in Hall, two are south of Browns Bridge, which straddles Hall and Forsyth counties, and the rest are north of Browns Bridge, Cloud said.
“In the past 18 months, we’ve closed four docks and five vessels either though property owner action or Lake Lanier Association involvement,” she said.
One of the most recent removals took place in mid-August, when a rusted, stripped boat was removed from East Bank Park in Gwinnett. That resulted after a yearlong legal process involving several agencies.
“The state doesn’t title vessels, so there’s no good way of tracking ownership,” Cloud said at the time. “This boat is completely stripped — no engine, battery, steering wheel, hardware ... so we had no way of knowing where it came from or whose it was.”
Travis Terry of Terry’s Auto Towing Service and Robert Estrada of TowBoatUS Lake Lanier each said they receive calls “all the time” about unsightly, unused and unkempt boats and docks, though they’re not allowed to remove them without completing a legal process that declares them abandoned.
Part of that process includes advertising it as abandoned property.
One of the most recent legal notices, published Aug. 14 in The Times, describes longitude and latitude coordinates for the location of the vessel, which “sank close to (the) shoreline.”
The craft “appears to be a pontoon-style vessel” and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources boat registration number is “not available,” states the ad, which lists the corps as the contact.
Sketchy registration numbers — if they’re visible at all — is an issue Cloud would like to see addressed in the next session of the Georgia General Assembly.
A bill requiring boat titles never left the Georgia House in the last legislative session.
“Georgia is one of few states in the U.S. that doesn’t title vessels,” the organization has said on its website in an appeal to members. “As a result, tracking ownership over the course of time, especially as a vessel changes owners, can be difficult.”
And owners, if they can be found, can be unwilling or unable to remove the abandoned property.
“Absolutely, we will revisit this issue” with lawmakers, Cloud has said.
As for the corps, tackling the problem requires funding it doesn’t have.
“We hope to someday, but right now we couldn’t do this without these in-kind services,” natural resources manager Nick Baggett said, referring to Lake Lanier Association efforts.