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How group resolved reports of 60 abandoned docks, vessels on Lanier since 2015
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An abandoned houseboat rests in a cove near the Department of Natural Resources dock at Gainesville Marina Monday, June 25, 2018. Since an organized effort began to remove abandoned vessels and rundown docks on Lake Lanier in 2015, 60 reports of abandoned and rundown docks and boats on Lake Lanier have been resolved. - photo by Scott Rogers

Some 60 reports of abandoned and rundown docks and boats on Lake Lanier have been resolved since an organized effort began in 2015.

“Some (have been) more complex and expensive than others,” the Lake Lanier Association said in a news release issued Saturday, June 23.

The latest incident happened last week, when an association member took photos of a local contractor dumping material at an unauthorized location on the lake and sent them to the association.

The lake group “contacted the contractor and also alerted the local and federal authorities to the situation, and the situation has since been resolved,” the organization said. “Community awareness and having a communication channel for citizens to report suspicious activity is a key to preventing these situations from happening.”

In 2015, to address the problem, the lake group formed a task force with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Hall County Solicitor’s Office.

“The focus was to remove abandoned and derelict docks and vessels that threaten the cleanliness and safety of our lake,” the lake group said. “We started slowly but gradually built a discipline and a commitment to making a difference.”

One problem that has plagued coves in the lake for years was resolved last year by the task force — sunken, steel-hulled houseboats.

The last of them, nicknamed “Titanic” by the association, was hauled from the lake near Lakeview Lane in June 2017. Steel-hulled houseboats were sold for years on the lake and had a nasty habit of developing pinhole leaks.

“The problem is a lot of people have maintained these for a while, and then they see they start having leaks, pinholes, and they sell them for a cut-rate price to an unknowing buyer,” said Nicholas Baggett, natural resource manager for the corps in 2017.

As with the Titanic, the steel boats can float for a long while before their bilge pumps get overwhelmed by the leaks, often when they’re moved for the first time.

“Next thing you know you’ve got a water skier or a couple of kids out on a tube and run into it and get hurt,” said John Barker, a board member of the Lake Lanier Association. “Responsible ownership says you’ve got to take it from acquisition to disposition — and there’s no fun in the disposition.”

And trash begets trash. After the Titanic appeared in the cove, a derelict dock was towed into the area and abandoned.

Cleaning up other people’s messes can be an expensive project for the association —  it took two barges, more than a day’s worth of working hours and $10,000 to get the boat off of the lake bottom and both it and the dock hauled away — hence the involvement of the Hall County solicitor.

Quarterly meetings are now held to discuss real-time issues and attempt to resolve all incidents “by identifying the rightful property owner and encouraging them to remedy the situation,” the group said.

Getting the situation resolved “sometimes becomes an impossibility, and that’s where the task force takes more tactical actions to remove these eyesores and safety hazards.”

In 2016, state funding “provided us with the working capital to begin this job in earnest,” the association said.

County commissioners in Hall and Forsyth help provide matching funds.

Most recently, the solicitor’s office has joined the quarterly meetings. Work to draw in counterparts from Forsyth and Gwinnett counties is underway, the lake group said.

Capt. Johnny Johnson of the DNR credits the Lake Lanier Association “for driving the success of the project by having volunteers coordinate efforts across the different agencies and keeping the focus on the project.”

“Getting community awareness that these problems are happening on Lake Lanier is a major part of the strategy for being proactive and intervening in situations prior to a rightful owner walking away or prior to a dock or vessel becoming complete submerged and creating additional complications for removal,” said Joanna Cloud, executive director of the association.

Reporter Nick Bowman contributed to this report.