At one time, abandoned vessels were the big concern on Lake Lanier, floating masses of steel and metal leaking fluids into the water. That seems to be less of issue these days.
The new worry is abandoned docks.
“They’re out of control,” said Jennifer Flowers, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association.
It’s so much of an issue that a “see something, say campaign” has been started in an effort to catch illegal dumpers in the act of abandoning docks.
“We’re hoping to get more traction (from that),” Flowers said.
The issue is partly homeowners “wanting to get rid of their dock and they take it themselves and put into a cove,” she said. “Some of it is people are paying contractors to dispose of their docks and (contractors) aren’t disposing of them. They either sticking them in coves or keeping them at construction sites.”
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Last year, the number of dock floats removed from the War Hill area on the Dawson County side of the lake “was ridiculous,” Flowers said. “We could just really attribute that to the idea that somebody is replacing floats and then just letting the ones they replaced just go, or they’re stashing them in coves. There’s just no other explanation we can come up with.”
The association addressed the issue in its spring newsletter, showing pictures of docks “dumped and left to decay” and asking members if they recognize them.
“Most of these docks are dealt with responsibly. They are either being sold as used or (are) being properly dismantled and removed from the lake,” the newsletter says.
“But many are not. Unscrupulous individuals are using the anonymity provided by the vastness of the lake to transport these docks to remote locations where they are dumped and become a safety hazard, a source of debris and an eyesore.”
“People just take the dock off into a cove or just set it free,” said Tim Rainey, the Army Corps of Engineers operations project manager for Lake Lanier. “I don’t know what’s going through their minds.”
The issue is multilayered. There are people basically dumping illegally on the lake and then there are scam artists who pocket money from people honestly wanting their docks removed, then dumping them illegally, instead of taking them to a landfill or some other, legal disposal site.
A big thing for dock owners is to make sure to shield themselves from liability.
“If we find an abandoned dock and we can trace that back to you … and we can show that was your dock, I’m coming after you,” Rainey said. “There are state laws the (Georgia Department of Natural Resources) has in their processes and, depending on the severity of (the case), we may file charges as well.”
Prosecutors around the lake also are involved, including Hall County Solicitor Stephanie Woodard, who handles misdemeanor cases in Hall State Court.
“We try not to be punitive,” Woodard said. “Part of the solution is teaching people (about the issue). … People who have never owned lake property, who are not familiar with the rules of the Corps or waterways, don’t know what to do if they replace or no longer want the dock.”
Those who are charged with a misdemeanor involved in a case could face up to a $1,000 fine and 1 year in jail.
In its newsletter, the lakes explains “how to properly dispose of a dock.”
Basically, those selling or giving away a dock need to involve the Corps by getting a transfer of ownershp form. Keep a copy of the form and to further cover yourself, take pictures of the dock before getting rid of it and get the physical address where your old dock will be going.
Then, “on a nice, sunny day, ride by that location and verify that your dock arrived at its new home,” the group advises.
Similar steps are advised in hiring a contractor to remove a dock, including getting the Corps form, but also ask the contractor to take pictures “of your dock being transported by their boat across the lake (and) the location where the dock will be dismantled.”
Clearing the lack of abandoned docks isn’t just a matter of keeping the lake pretty.
Pieces can float off into the body of the lake, where they can become a hazard for recreational users.
“If you’re swimming, they could hurt you. If you’re boating and you hit them, they could damage your boat,” Rainey said. “Some of these dock blocks are big enough to throw you out of a boat.”
Abandoned docks have always been an issue, but “they are being more noticed now,” Rainey said. “There’s more people on the lake. It’s getting more and more crowded, and people are seeing things.”
The number of annual visitors to Lake Lanier, which borders Hall, Lumpkin, Dawson, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, is 11.8 million visitors, according to the Corps of Engineers.
Rainey also said the maximum number of dock permits on the lake – 10,615 — has been reached “so we’re not adding docks to the lake. But people are either replacing their old docks, wanting to getting a newer or bigger dock.”
Reporting offenders: Anyone with information about abandoned docks are asked to call the Army Corps of Engineers at (770) 945-9531.