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Homeowners face upstream battle over Lake Knickerbocker
Gainesville lake is clogged with silt, but funding, permitting obstacles remain
Lake Knickerbocker is seen from East Lake Drive in Gainesville.

James Lester remembers Lake Knickerbocker well when he settled off Ledan Road in 1976.

“I have some great pictures of when my boys were young, down there feeding the geese,” he said. “You could walk right down to the lake behind my house — it was really neat.”

Today, access isn’t so great, Lester said, thanks to silt buildup in the 45-acre lake that sits just north of Gainesville and backs up to the Chattahoochee Golf Course.

“I thought I could get a kayak in there easier, but I have to drag it all across that sand and silt, bushes and trees,” he said. “And then, when you do get in the lake, it’s still not deep.”

Lester and others living around the lake are hoping to getting the lake back to its old self, with plans to work with Gainesville and Hall County governments, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.

Basically, the area around the lake’s southern half is in Gainesville and the Ledan Road area, including Ada Creek, is in Hall. The lake itself — though separated from Lake Lanier — is governed by the corps.

Residents complain that surrounding development and other issues, particularly heavy rains and the washing out of a culvert on Ledan, have contributed to the silt problem. They would like to see fixes take place, including possible creek or stream dams and dredging.

A meeting was held last week to get the ball rolling, involving David Gleason, president of the Lake Lanier-Knickerbocker Protective Association, Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan and Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell.

“We need to get the lake cleaned up, and the first thing we need to do is we have to stop the silt from coming in any farther,” Gleason said. “In order to do that, we’re going to have to put dams in the various tributaries feeding the lake.“

Dunagan agrees that might be the right approach.

“We’re going to have to figure out what it’s going to take to stop the siltation before we start to dredge,” he said. “It won’t do any good to dredge if it’s going to silt right back up.”

As far as the watershed goes, Dunagan said, officials will need to determine which tributaries fall in the city and which in the county.

Powell said he has asked the county’s grant writers to see if any money is available for cleaning out the silt.

“It’s a big project and I’m not sure of the dollar magnitude,” he said. “It’s a little overwhelming. It’s going to be a big pot of money that’s got to come from somewhere.”

Gleason said the neighborhood has explored some of the possible expenses, with dams costing about $15,000 each and dredging, $2 million or higher.

The lake is public, but he and others believe that if Knickerbocker had more public access, there may be more of a shot at public dollars.

But beyond money, there’s another, potentially bigger hurdle: getting needed permits from the corps.

“That could take as long as Glades Farm,” Powell said.

Delays over permits have plagued the proposed Glades Reservoir project in North Hall, which is much larger in scale and has cost Hall hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees.

The corps could look at whether to permit a silt removal project through the Mobile District, which governs Lanier, or the regulatory division in the Savannah District, said Nick Baggett, the corps’ natural resource manager at Lake Lanier.

And he said he is open to meeting with residents about the situation.

“We’ll have to go out and take a look at the exact plans or proposals they have for that area,” Baggett said.

But he was quick to point out that the corps doesn’t have deep pockets.

“There’s a number of coves around the lake that have siltation problems,” Baggett said. “We could shut down everything and still not have enough money to remove all the siltation. It’s an expensive venture.

“We have requests from a lot of different entities for different issues, such as abandoned boats, and we just don’t have the money to address those things. We’re having a challenge on our existing budget just keeping the parks and campgrounds open.”

Hall County Engineer Kevin McInturff, who was involved with the Ledan Road culvert project, said, “To me, a better solution would be to have a dredging ... every decade or so.”

Lake Knickerbocker has a long silt history, one that didn’t start with the culvert.

“There is a heavy sediment load in Ada Creek,” McInturff said. “One of the property owners wanted me to look at dredging it before I even started on the pipe.

“The amount of sediment that came from the pipe blowout, compared to the amount of sediment that goes in (the lake) on a daily basis, is negligible,” McInturff said.

Besides, he said, getting permitting for a dam on a live stream could be a stiff challenge.

“It’s generally frowned upon,” McInturff said.

In Lester’s eyes, various parties contributed to the siltation problem in the lake and he would like to see “them pool together resources and help us.”

“It’s just taking care of our natural resources,” he said.

Lester and others also see the potential for public access, particularly in a city-owned spot overlooking the lake off East Lake Drive.

“We’re really pressing for the city to put in a (boat) ramp so everybody can use it,” he said. “We don’t want it just for ourselves.”