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Watching water, roads
Holiday is beginning of busy season
police on h2o 4 es
Courtney Quinn and Meghan Storey relax Wednesday afternoon on a dock at Habersham Marina on Lake Lanier. - photo by Emily Saunders
Public safety officials are cautioning folks to have a fun but safe Memorial Day weekend.

In addition to law enforcement on the roads, authorities will keep a close eye on Lake Lanier, where the holiday weekend traditionally kicks off the busy summer season.

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol Unit will work with the state Department of Natural Resources to ensure lake visitors are safe.

Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Latonis said the unit’s boats and personal watercraft will be used to patrol the water.

“It’s going to be crowded, which gives a false sense of security,” he said, adding that boaters and water-skiers should watch for objects just under the surface of the water.

“Of course, you always want to warn that drinking and operating a vessel is dangerous,” he said. “Choose a designated operator of the vessel.”

According to DNR figures, there were five drownings and four boating-related deaths on Lanier in 2008.

Three of the drownings and three of the deaths were on the Forsyth County side of the lake. In 2007, four people drowned on the Forsyth side.

Latonis said boaters should be mindful of buoys and pay attention to their surroundings and landmarks while on the water so they can be located in the event of an emergency.

The department’s personal watercraft, which are new this year, can be used to give aid on the water and the shoreline.

“We can dock on the beaches and get into tighter, shallower spots than the boats,” he said.

Latonis also warned that those on the water should make sure they have plenty of U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vests.

“Throw cushions don’t count,” he said.

Authorities also will patrol the parks along the lake.

While the weather forecast may not cooperate — there’s a strong chance of scattered thunderstorms over the entire three-day span — few lake-goers can complain about the resurgent water level.

Coming off a nearly two-year drought, Lanier has bounced back to about 1,065.4 feet above sea level, the closest its been to full pool of 1,071 feet since July 2007.

Still, Forsyth County Fire Capt. Jason Shivers warned that it may be too soon to go for a dip.

“The local bodies of water, especially Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River, are still very cold,” he said. “Please don’t be lured into believing the water is comfortable to swim in because of the warmer weather we’re experiencing.”

Shivers said the cold water can cause a swimmer’s body to go into shock, which leads to cramping.

“You will not be able to stay afloat,” he said. “It’s simply not warm enough yet to swim safely.”

For those planning a cookout, Shivers also warned that wind gusts can topple barbecue grills not attached to the ground.

And the only fireworks that are legal in the state are ground-based. “A good rule of thumb is if it leaves the ground, it’s not legal,” he said.

Local and state law enforcement will be watching the roads as well.

The Georgia State Patrol has predicted that 18 people will die and 875 suffer injuries in an estimated 2,725 wrecks over the 78-hour holiday period, which begins at 6 p.m. today and ends at midnight Monday.

According to state Office of Highway Safety figures, last year’s holiday weekend saw 2,840 wrecks, 721 injuries and 12 fatalities.

Bob Dallas, department director, said in a statement that “alcohol and the lack of safety belt use were the primary contributing factors in a majority of the fatal crashes” that weekend.