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Frustration spills over at hearing
Residents question plan for Lake Alice
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Forsyth County News

Many of those who attended a public hearing Wednesday night on the future of Lake Alice appeared to leave with more questions than answers.

Several asked for another hearing once a final action plan is in place for the lake, whose dam was breached May 19 during heavy rains. The incident sent torrents of water and sediment from the lake into a cove of nearby Lake Lanier.

The meeting followed months of talks between the city of Cumming and Mashburn family about how best to restore the area and clean out the cove. The city, which owns Lake Alice, and the family trust, which owned the dam, recently reached an agreement on a remediation plan.

While some details, such as a timeline and specific materials are still being discussed, both the family’s engineer, Brian Wellington, and the city offered a preliminary look at the plan Wednesday.

The presentation stirred a few audience outbursts and accusations, largely directed at the city. However, many residents in and around the cove asked for a second public hearing before the plan is executed.

According to Wellington, the family’s intent is not to rebuild the dam, but rather to install a weir. All parties, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division, involved in the process have agreed that’s the best course of action.

A weir is a barrier that forms an obstruction smaller than most dams, pooling water behind it while also allowing it to flow steadily over the top.

Once the structure can effectively stem sediment from the Lake Alice’s bed from reaching Lanier, the city would be responsible for dredging and cleaning the cove.

Residents speaking at the hearing expressed their mistrust of the process thus far, given that it’s been about nine months since the breach. It was that same lack of trust that drew cynical responses about the decision to install a weir, not replace the dam.

There were also unanswered questions about the weir, including how tall it would be, what materials it would be made from and who would maintain it.

Questions also arose about the city’s dredging of the lake. Residents such as Ron Williams were concerned that not all the new sediment would be removed.

“As taxpayers, all we want is to have what we had two years ago,” Williams said. “We have invested a lot of money ... because of the value of waterfront property and we want that to remain.”

Engineer Danny Bennett talked about the city’s portion of the agreement, fielding many questions about the dredging.

“There’s been no ifs ands or buts about that. The sediment that’s in the cove due to the dam breach will be removed,” he said.

Resident Cindy Boff was trying to get specific information regarding how the sediment would be removed and from which sections of Lanier.

“Most of us are concerned about the level of water under our particular docks,” she said.

But after further questioning by Boff, Tim Rainey with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers clarified that the volume of sediment deposited from the breach would be removed.

“We’re looking at quantities, not each and every piece,” Rainey said. “There very well may be ... cases where we do not go under your dock.”

Rainey said there would be a point of “diminishing returns” for spending large amounts of money to remove a few inches of silt from individual docks.

That response didn’t please Boff, the wife of Forsyth County Commissioner Jim Boff, whose district includes the affected area.

“We all understand that the goal is to not spend $1 million just to do a cost-effective process, but the diminishing return that you’re speaking of are property values,” she said. “For most average people ... that represents a large portion of our financial picture, so we’re very concerned.”

Other speakers offered emotional appeals, talking about the damage done to their boats and property and their frustration with being left out of the solution process.

Sensing the lack of audience support for the proposal, Wellington encouraged residents to “have a little patience with us.”

The repairs will be “done right,” he said, adding “you will have your lake back for your enjoyment.”