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Erosion, public facilities and lack of local control lead Lake Lanier worries
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Tim Rainey, an operations project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at right, talks about Army Corps practices during a public hearing about Lake Lanier on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. The Army Corps is revising its master plan for regulating the lake for the first time in 31 years. - photo by Nick Bowman FCN regional staff

Erosion, navigation markers, restaurants and unwieldy federal decision-making are high on the list of public concerns about the future of life on Lake Lanier.

On Thursday, Hall County residents had the chance to get an update and weigh in on the update to the Lake Lanier master plan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ guiding document for managing the lake.

The massive document hasn’t been updated since 1987, and the Army Corps is taking it slow as it studies a lake that has 692 miles of shoreline, more than 100 islands, more than 10,000 dock permits and hosts more than 8 million visitors each year. The rewrite began in October 2017 and won’t be finished until the end of 2019.

This month, the Army Corps launched one public stage of its master plan rewrite. Public hearings have been held in communities around the lake to discuss general lake issues and recreation specifically. 

As part of the public hearing, three large posters were tacked on the wall at the Hall County Government Center on Browns Bridge Road asking people about their concerns and priorities for the lake. The questions came from focus groups in the special interest, commercial and government fields.

People were given stickers to signify their priorities. Do they hate the Canada geese on the lake? Do they want more navigational markers? Is unsafe boating behavior a problem? Is erosion an issue?

The answer to all of these questions was: Yes.

Voters were most concerned about erosion and sediment — issues that have been made obvious in the past few days as heavy rain brought the lake to full winter pool for the first time in two years, sending runoff and mud into Lake Lanier that had been building up for months.

Glenn Martin, owner of Martin Docks, said at the meeting that he’s seen consistent demand for dredging in coves, which removes sediment from erosion, and growing demand for riprap along the shoreline to help control erosion.

“We do more rock work now than we ever have. It’s an awareness thing, it’s a cosmetic thing,” Martin said, but noted that “for a dock builder, (erosion is) actually good but for somebody who cares about the lake outside of a business, erosion is a horrible thing for a lake.”

While erosion was the top issue, several others were high on the minds of the dozens of people who attended the Thursday meeting: 

• Limiting high-speed boats and large wakes on the lake

• Boating education classes for youth and adults

• Unsafe boater behavior

• More local control over Army Corps decision-making

• A need for more navigation markers

• A need for more restaurants

• Keeping Army Corps money local

• Better enforcement of regulations

Input from communities around the lake will be worked into how the Army Corps manages development on the lake.

As part of the public input process on Thursday, and through the rest of the meetings, the Army Corps set up a live GIS mapping system that allowed people to give input on channels, coves and other areas that were in need of more attention.

Nick Baggett, natural resource manager for the Army Corps on Lake Lanier, said the corps doesn’t police boating on the lake — and therefore can’t control boater behavior or congestion — but can regulate how development takes place along the shoreline.

The corps wanted to know from lake residents and users where they see trouble areas or areas that could use more development. Those suggestions will be incorporated into recreation plans and the master plan.

Along with public meetings, Army Corps consultants will be performing random surveys in the next year to collect information about how the lake is being used. 

John Titre, principal of Boating Capacity Solutions and the corps’ lead consultant for the master plan revision, said he plans to survey boaters, lake residents, public lake ramp users and marina slip customers. In total, the survey will approach some 1,600 people.

That data will be compiled into a report finished in October 2018. Workshops about the draft report will be held in November, and the Army Corps will return for another round of public forums in the winter of 2019.