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Volunteer crews work to remove abandoned houseboat from Lake Lanier shoreline
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A rotting tackle box and other trash sits on an abandoned houseboat Friday at Lathem Creek as Lake Lanier Association members and others attempt to remove the boat for salvage. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Efforts to clean up Lake Lanier began Friday with work to remove one of the many abandoned houseboats found along the shoreline.

After two years of leading an effort to remove the houseboat, John Barker, a volunteer, lake resident and member of the Lake Lanier Association, was there to see the results. Barker spent time working with the Corps of Engineers, state Department of Natural Resources and the LLA to coordinate the work.

Joanna Cloud, executive director for the Lake Lanier Association, was hopeful early in the day with two separate vendors scheduled to assist in removing of the boat. The plan was for a two-man crew from Lanier Dock Systems to pull the boat to shore, where Chris Jones would haul it away using a large trailer and electric winch.

“It’s frustrating because the owner was not to be located so it’s officially abandoned. The Corps of Engineers do not have the resources to deal with abandoned vessels,” Cloud said. “So we got involved to see if we could help try to find either sponsors or partners or people to do pro bono work to see if we could get this thing removed.“

Depending on volunteers and donations, it often takes years to coordinate efforts and find businesses and organizations to help remove abandoned derelict docks or vessels, she said.

“We are one of three states that doesn’t title vessels; we title vehicles and we title trailers but we don’t title vessels, we register them,” Cloud said. “So in situations like this, it’s hard to trace back who the rightful owner is, who is the responsible party.”

Ryan Bennett, owner and president of Lanier Dock Systems, was joined by associate Michael Miles in removing the beached boat from its resting spot. After four hours and several attempts, they guided it to the Lathem Creek construction site being used to remove the boat. Three other construction sites around Lake Lanier are accessible to the larger vehicles needed to haul abandoned boats and larger debris from the lake.

Jones planned to come back to the Lathem Creek site early next week with a larger trailer and better idea of the immense size and weight of the flat-bottomed houseboat.

“At least they had the decency to beach her, and not let her sink out in open water,” Miles said of the abandoned boat. “If she were to sink, she’d sit down there and all the cabin structure would rot and turn to mush. Of course, the rust and contaminants don’t do the water any good. It’s not healthy for the environment, not to mention if you sink it, it creates a hazard because the levels of the water go up and down.”

Bennett and Miles donated their time to help remove the houseboat, a service that would normally run into thousands of dollars.

“The thing is if you’re going to boat on the lake, and you’re going to enjoy yourself, you should also be a good steward of it,” Bennett said. “If that means you have to break even, or even lose a couple hundred bucks, do your bit. If you’re going to play in it, keep it clean.”

Cloud said there are a dozen abandoned boats or docks around the lake in need of removal; some are submerged and others beached along the shoreline. The LLA works with the corps and DNR to keep the lake clean and welcomes volunteers and donations.

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