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Authorities bracing for big hurrah on water, roads this weekend
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Forsyth County News

Whether your plans are to hang out on the lake or head to downtown Atlanta, officials are cautioning the public to have fun but be safe over the Labor Day weekend.

Local law enforcement and public safety officials were  gearing up as the holiday, the unofficial end of the summer recreation season approached.

Capt. Frank Huggins with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office said the department would be doing safety checks and its Highway Enforcement Aggressive Traffic, DUI Task Force and mounted patrol units would be patrolling throughout the weekend.

"As much as this is the last big weekend on the lake, our special operations division will be on the lake working with the [state] Department of Natural Resources to enforce boating safety laws," Huggins said.

"We want to make sure that everyone has a very safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend, and the way we can do that is through a strong presence on the lake, on the road and in the parks."

Cumming Police Chief Mike Eason said enforcement in the city would be stepped up as well.

"We'll be more diligent over the holiday weekend, of course, because of all the parties and things going on," he said.

"We'll be looking for (drunk drivers) and other safety violations."

Water wisdom

Forsyth County Fire Department officials have said anyone swimming in Lake Lanier or the Chattahoochee River should wear safety vests.

The same goes for boaters and fishermen.

The DNR is bracing for thousands of lake visitors, many of whom may not be familiar with boating laws, over the long holiday weekend.

Due to the ongoing drought and its effects on Lanier, the DNR is urging lake visitors to be extra cautious and aware of possible navigational obstructions while on the water.

"Boaters should be on the lookout for such obstructions as trees, debris and land areas that normally are well under the water's surface," said Col. Terry West, the department's chief of law enforcement.

"Even if you are familiar with a particular body of water, we encourage you to boat with caution to protect your vessel and your occupants."

Throughout the summer, public safety officials have cautioned that Lanier is "not the lake it used to be." Due to the low water level, visitors can reach areas that were previously far offshore and where the terrain is unpredictable.

Five people, including two this month, have drowned on Lanier.

A 30-year-old man drowned Aug. 20 at West Bank Park off Buford Dam Road, not far from the dam, in eastern Forsyth County.

An 18-year-old Winder man drowned Aug. 10 near Old Federal Campground in Hall County.

Prior to that, there had been three drowning and four boating-related deaths.

In some cases this year, victims drowned after jumping out of a boat, which the DNR then classifies as boating fatalities.

Three of the deaths were in Forsyth County over the Fourth of July weekend.

Four people drowned in 2007 on the Forsyth side of the lake.

"As always," West said, "conservation rangers will continue to strictly enforce all boating laws in an effort to keep everyone safe, but we also encourage people to pay extra attention to others on the water."

Avoid Atlanta

Various crowd-drawing events are planned this weekend in Atlanta, though the trip downtown may take much longer than usual.

The state Department of Transportation has ceased roadwork throughout the state for the holiday weekend, with the exception of one project: the downtown connector, where I-75 and I-85 meet.

That means folks coming for the Alabama-Clemson college football game at the Georgia Dome, Dragon•Con, a marching band competition or any of several other Labor Day weekend festivities will likely be inconvenienced.

Mark McKinnon, DOT spokesman, said I-75 will be narrowed to one lane above the split and I-85 will be down to two lanes at the Ga. 400 split. The lanes will be limited past 10th Street, he said.

"It's going to be congested and slow," McKinnon said.

He said the best way to get around the downtown area will be to take Interstate-285 to I-20.

The department rarely allows roadwork during holiday weekends, he said, but needed three consecutive days to complete this project with minimal traffic impact.

The some 400,000 motorists expected to pass through over the weekend may sound like a lot, but the DOT would have to work the next six weekends to finish the project, McKinnon said. Doing so would affect 2.6 million drivers.

The project is part of an $88.5 million reconstruction project at 14th Street in Midtown.

During the weekend, crews will tear out and rebuild sections of the two interstate highways, in an effort to improve safety and sight distance.

Travel lanes will be shifted for a new exit ramp at 10th Street. Crews also will place equipment and materials to finish removing the east side of the bridge and then begin rebuilding the supports for a new, taller and longer replacement bridge.