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Lake Lanier marina plan is on the rocks
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Forsyth County News

An Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to put a marina on the Chestatee River arm of Lake Lanier isn’t just causing waves among area residents.

It has drawn in other parties and stirred wildlife concerns, with Hall County showing possible interest in leasing Bolding Mill Park — the site of the proposed marina. And there have been sightings of the federally protected bald eagle in an area where the marina might go.

Bolding Mill “is a beautiful place,” said Richard Mecum, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners. “(The corps) has done a great job with it and the roads are all good.”

The corps has leased out several parks to area governments, including Laurel Park to Hall and War Hill Park to Dawson County.

Talks over Bolding Mill began after the corps announced in February it would send out a formal “request for proposals” for the marina, which would be on 17 acres at the park at 4055 Chestatee Road near Cool Springs Road in northwest Hall.

Plans to send out the request are still being considered, and a meeting Tuesday between the corps and Hall might address whether “to lease or not,” said Lisa Parker, the corps Mobile (Ala.) District spokeswoman.

Mecum couldn’t say whether the marina might still factor into park plans, even if there’s a lease agreement with the county.

“It’s corps property,” he said. “They can do what they want. Our talks have been general ... and I think there’s a desire on their part to see if we want (the park).”

Asked whether he supports or opposes the marina proposal, Mecum laughed a moment, then said, “I’m not going to go there. That’s up to the corps to make that determination.”

Area residents, meanwhile, know where they stand on the matter.

“We feel that the marina is just not needed here,” said David Day, who spearheads Friends of Bolding Mill, a group opposed to the marina.

Opponents said they just don’t need the extra boat traffic, citing two nearby neighborhoods — Marina Bay and Harbour Point — that already have community docks, with more than 500 boat slips between them.

“That’s a huge number of slips within a stone’s throw of each other,” said Louis Boohaker of Harbour Point. “And I can’t help but believe that adding more is going to have a disastrous effect, from the standpoint of the environment, pollution and safety.”

Day agreed.

“It would create an excess in boat traffic, boating accidents, deaths, noise, traffic and crime,” he said.

During a visit to the park last week, Day pointed to a tree-covered island not far from the shoreline at Bolding Mill’s boat ramp and a reef marker between the island and the boat ramp.

“From here to the island is a sandbar — that’s why that reef marker’s there,” Day said. “In other words, don’t bring your boat through here.”

“Weekend warriors don’t abide by that,” but if you throw a marina in the mix, “you’ve got a dangerous situation here,” he said.

Opponents believe their cause might be getting help from an unexpected source: a bald eagle habitat that may be in the marina’s footprint.

The bird of prey, also America’s national bird, is protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, said Stacy Shelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Atlanta.

That’s “the first (corps officials) have heard of the eagle habitat,” Parker said.

Shelton couldn’t confirm whether the park has an eagle habitat, deferring to Jim Ozier, a nongame conservation program manager who conducts eagle nesting surveys each year for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Ozier was out of the office last week and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Still, Shelton said, the corps “is responsible for ensuring that their activities” don’t adversely affect a protected species.

An environmental assessment or a more involved “environmental impact statement” “will be required for further development” of the marina proposal, Parker said, adding an EIS usually entails public meetings.

The idea of a marina on the Chestatee has been kicked around for several years, with the corps deciding again this year to broach the issue.

Parker has said the new marina would “satisfy the portion of the master plan that calls for fuel services on this end of the lake.”

Opponents also cite Athens Boat Club in nearby Dawson County. The private club offers fuel for its members and, on an emergency basis, to nonmembers, said Bob Beckham, the club’s vice commander.

“If they put a marina in there, with gas pumps and all, then I would say probably the level that we would be able to sell gas only to the members would be such that we would close our gas pumps down,” he said. “It just wouldn’t be economically feasible.”

The marina would occupy part of Bolding Mill’s day-use area. The park also features a campground overlooking the lake.

Corps officials have said the marina might increase visitation to the campground.

Because of budget constraints, the corps had reduced the number of days per week Bolding Mill and three other campgrounds — Van Pugh South, Duckett Mill and Sawnee — had been open to four. However, by handing over services to volunteers, Bolding Mill has returned to daily operations this season, which ends Sept. 7.

The idea was “to keep from shutting down the park,” Park Ranger Robert Daniel has said.

Opponents believe the marina, with 400-plus slips, could discourage campers from pitching a tent or pulling an RV to the campground.

“I think it would be a big mistake,” said Walter Key of Lawrenceville, who was staying at the campground Tuesday. “It would turn (the area) into Lake Lanier Islands, which is all commercial now. You don’t need to be touching this nature.”

Friends of Bolding Mill, which has lined Chestatee Road with green “Save the Chestatee” signs and started a website that features a petition page, also is worried the park’s infrastructure isn’t equipped to handle a new load of marina visitors.

The group “believes the narrow road leading to Bolding Mill is inadequate to handle the marina, along with the current campgrounds, public boat ramp and public beach,” its website states.

Also, “the parking lot and restroom facility are inadequate to handle such a large volume of visitors, vehicles and boat trailers.”