The last steel-hulled, sunken houseboat was scraped from the shore of Lake Lanier on Tuesday.
Law enforcement, lake managers, the Lake Lanier Association and Marine Specialties Inc. hauled the hull of the 40-foot, destroyed vessel — stuffed full of debris, mud and catfish — from the shore near the 4000 block of Lakeview Lane in Gainesville onto a barge for disposal.
The work lasted most of the morning and will likely cost taxpayers almost $10,000 through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Hall County government, which funded the work with grants to the lake association.
It took three pieces of heavy equipment and two barges from Marine Specialties to drag the boat and an abandoned dock from the shore near Flat Creek.
A muddy, faded identification number was recovered from the hull of the boat that might be able to tie it to a previous owner, but if one isn’t found and forced to pay up, the bill will be paid from the grants.
“Steel hulls are challenging because they’re heavy, they’re hard to chop,” said Joanna Cloud, gesturing to the hulk sticking from the water on Tuesday. “If you don’t pull them out every couple of years and refurbish that hull, they have a very annoying tendency of corroding.”
Cloud is the executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, which has been working to remove the houseboat, nicknamed the “Titanic,” for the past two years.
“The property owner has never had a houseboat registered in his name,” Cloud said. “We’re thinking either it genuinely showed up out of nowhere and sank or it was a renter.”
It was last afloat in the area in 2010, according to satellite images pulled by DNR ranger Steven Cohn. It was tied to a dock that’s no longer in the area.
After the boat sunk, a dock and sheet metal slip were towed into the area and abandoned. Rich York, a board member of the lake association who lives a half-mile down the shore, said he saw the dock passing through the channel under tow in 2014.
“It’s not unusual to see dock builders coming and going,” York said.
He didn’t think anything of it at the time, but shortly afterward it turned up in the cove near the sunken houseboat.
The Titanic is the last sunken, steel houseboat on the association’s radar. There are about 150 active steel-hulled houseboats registered in Lake Lanier, according to John Barker, a director of the lake association.
New houseboats are usually made with aluminum, and the older steel houseboats are reaching the end, or are already beyond, their useful lives.
“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 Army Corps of Engineers, who was watching the work on Tuesday.
The corps has had its own trouble with houseboats — Baggett referenced a case a few years ago in which a steel vessel was purchased for about $500 from a marina.
“As he was leaving going towards the (Buford) Dam, it started sinking,” Baggett said. “It had thousands of pinholes in it, and his bilge pump stopped working. He ended up coming to just offshore of … one of our campsites.”
In that case, the boat was in plain sight and the corps intervened. But sometimes vessels are dumped or forgotten.
“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,” Barker said. “Responsible ownership says you’ve got to take it from acquisition to disposition – and there’s no fun in the disposition.”
With the boat out of the water and a potential hull ID recovered, the association will work with the Hall County solicitor general to locate an owner and file charges.