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Lower levels at Lanier may mean no dock permits
Corps has turned down 125 applications, issued 80 permits
Bill and Diane Felder take a moment Tuesday morning to feed the fish at their Lake Lanier dock. The couple waited five years to get their dock permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

If Lake Lanier drops another 2-plus feet, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will revert to its "low water action plan" and stop issuing boat dock permits, an official said this week.

The corps has been working since January 2010 reviewing applications and issuing permits — a process it rebooted after the 2007-09 drought, which drained the lake to a historic low of 1,050.79 feet and left many docks on dry ground.

Friday, the lake stood at 1065.24 feet, nearly 6 feet below the normal full pool of 1,071 feet. It has dropped a half-foot this week alone.

"If the lake gets to 1,063, we cannot issue any new permits," said Ernest Noe, chief ranger for the corps.
Current water levels also could affect the process.

"There are docks that are already moving," he said.

"If we go out and evaluate a new permit and the docks in that particular cove have moved to the point where we can't make a decision, I've directed (staff) to explain that to the permittee and that we'll have to postpone the decision until the water comes up."

Noe added, "I'd rather (applicants) wait than for us to make a decision yes or no that wouldn't be responsible ... based on the conditions."

The summer, for the most part, has been bone dry, and dry weather is predicted to continue in the Hall County area for the rest of this week. Showers and thunderstorms could move in Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

"Every time it rains, I pray it's enough to make a difference (to the lake)," Noe said.

The corps restarted the dock review process with the intent of issuing the remaining 185 permits on the lake.

Its management plan and an accompanying Environmental Impact Statement completed in 2004 had set the limit of docks at 10,615.

Expecting a large number of applicants, the corps held a lottery in October 2009 to determine the order of reviewing applications.

Noe said officials had expected some 2,000 applications and were surprised when only 281 people applied.

"There were only a 100 or so requests more than what we have that the lake will support, so that tells us that our EIS we had done ...was fairly accurate," he said.

To date, the corps has issued 80 permits, turned down 125 applications for various reasons and have another 13 recommendations pending.

Bill and Diane Felder succeeded in getting a permit last October, after five years of trying.

"I go down (to the dock) probably about once or twice a day, doing a little bit of work on it here and there," Bill Felder said. "I had to buy a used one, but if floats and I've got my boats tied to it and I've already caught fish off it.

"I'm as happy as I can be."

As far as the water level is concerned, he's doing fine there, too. For now.

"If it goes down maybe 5 more feet, I probably won't have water, but at this point, I do," Felder said.

Noe said he hopes to finish the application review within another year or so. The process is going fairly steadily, even though it went at a slower clip this summer because of losing a staff member.

Still, he said, accuracy, not speed, is the main concern in reviewing applications.

At this point, it appears the corps may have permits remaining once it finishes the lottery process, Noe said.

If that happens, the corps would go back to the old system of accepting and reviewing applications on a first-come, first-served basis, he added.