For years, hazardous areas of Lake Lanier have been identified by markers warning boaters to steer clear. At night, however, those unlit posts can be difficult to see.
Through a partnership spearheaded by the Lake Lanier Association, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on the lake, lights are gradually being added to markers to improve visibility.
So far, 20 markers have received the solar-power-battery lights, one of them unveiled during a special outing Friday. The lights contain a photo cell that will flash on for one second and then off for three seconds during dark hours.
Val Perry, association president, said last summer’s significant incidents “caused a lot of people to focus on safety and what’s going on in this lake.”
Three children were killed in separate boating incidents, one of which occurred at night, on the lake in 2012.
“This started with a team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a team from the Coast Guard and it’s blossomed,” Perry said. “We think that this program ... will help us make it more safe when people are driving their boats in the evenings.”
Seventeen of the 20 lights installed this week through the solar lighting program are on the Forsyth County side of the lake. Forsyth, which contributed $20,000, is the lone county so far to allocate money toward the project, according to Perry.
“Forsyth County has given us a major donation in support of this project and we’re hopeful that our other counties will also step forward and do that,” he said.
In addition to other counties along the lake, association executive director Joanna Cloud said the group may appeal to residents, civic organizations and businesses to sponsor lights.
The end goal is to have about 1,000 lights on hazards lakewide, said Cloud, who like Perry lives in Forsyth County.
“In 2014, we’ll start expanding the program to other hazard markers,” she said, saying priorities are large creeks and bridge channels.
“There are a lot of fishermen boating at night, but there are also a lot of people that will go out to dinner with the family ... and if you were a novice boater and didn’t know where those hazard markers are, it would be very dangerous. It’s crazy how busy the lake gets at night, so really anybody who’s boating after dark it will be helpful for.”
Before taking a boat out Friday afternoon from Tidwell Park to unveil a marker light, Joseph Edwards with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary noted that it was “almost a historic day for the state of Georgia.”
And it’s a day that almost didn’t happen, said Tim Rainey, spokesman for the corps, which oversees Lanier.
“We have resisted it. We don’t necessarily have the resources to take on another item that we’ll have to inspect and maintain,” he said. “It’s wonderful that an organization such as the Lanier Association can create the Water Safety Alliance and be in the position to accept donations and do the coordination for all the inspections and maintenance and even the acquisition of the lights themselves.
“Anything we can do to make the lake safer is what we want to do.”