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UPDATE: U.S. Army Corps says it's renaming Lake Lanier, then says it's 'pausing' plans
Lake Lanier

Will they or won’t they?

Within hours of releasing documents saying the Army Corps of Engineers would move forward with recommending new names for Lake Lanier and Buford Dam, the Corps appeared to backtrack on its plans.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is pausing any actions related to project renaming pending further guidance from the Department of the Army,” the agency said in a statement sent to The Times Friday afternoon.

Correspondence earlier in the day indicated another direction.

This story continues below.

The Corps’ Mobile District “will develop and submit a new name for Lake Lanier/Buford Dam for consideration by the Department of the Army,” District Commander Jeremy J. Chapman said in a letter Friday, March 10, to Lake Lanier Association executive director Amy McGuire.

The actions are being taken in accordance with the fiscal 2021 William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act, the letter says.

“Our goal is to be fully open and transparent during the renaming process, and we will solicit public and stakeholder feedback on the recommended names,” Chapman said.

The Corps has set up a website to obtain public comments.

The agency has been “directed to provide potential name changes to Lake Sidney Lanier and Buford Dam,” said in a news release Friday, March 10.

A Corps “planning team is working to develop possible name recommendations and establish timelines for this process,” the release states.

An information sheet released by the Corps on Friday shows a list of renaming milestones, with “directed renaming complete” dated Jan.1, 2024.

That timeline now seems in limbo, given the latest communication from the Corps.

The Mobile District, which includes Lake Lanier and Buford Dam, “is committed to public and stakeholder engagement.”

“Ultimately, Congress has the final authority to select a new name for the project since it established the project’s name (Lake Lanier) when it first authorized the project in 1946,” the website states.

The issue stems from a September report issued by The Naming Commission, a congressionally chartered group assigned to reviewing federal names related to the Confederacy.

The Final Report to Congress says the lake and dam are “within its remit for consideration, but not within its purview to provide a naming recommendation.”

Buford Dam is named for the city, the namesake of Lt. Col. Algernon Sidney Buford, who served in the Virginia Militia during the Civil War, the report states.

Buford Dam stock image
Buford Dam sits at the base of Lake Lanier and is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Below the dam the Chattahoochee River continues southward. - photo by Scott Rogers

Lake Lanier is named after poet Sidney Lanier, who served in the Confederate States Army as a private. The lake drew 12.3 million visitors in 2022, said Steve J. Stanley, Army Corps of Engineers’ Mobile District spokesman, on Monday, March 6.

The Stars and Stripes, a military publication that receives public and private funding, notes in an article that commissioners included the civil works in their review of military assets but declined to offer naming recommendations for them due to the overlapping nature of their ownership and management with individual states.

The commission instead deferred a decision on their names to Congress, according to the publication.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to in the district agrees that this is a terrible idea,” U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, whose 9th District includes the eastern part of Lake Lanier, said in an email Friday to The Times.

The Republican continued: “I’m engaged in ongoing discussions with local leaders and stakeholders regarding our efforts to stop the potential name change, and I’ll be fighting in Washington with every tool available to defeat this severely misguided proposal.”

Despite repeated attempts, other lawmakers couldn’t be reached for comment, including Rep. Rich McCormick, a Republican whose 6th District includes the western part of Lake Lanier, and Georgia’s Democratic senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

The Naming Commission’s website has been shut down. The commission, which issued its first report in May 2022, “finished their mission” Oct. 1, 2022, according to the Department of Defense.

The group’s September report “provides a lengthy list of commission-vetted names that could be used for renaming,” according to the Stars and Stripes. “The commission collected more than 34,000 naming suggestions and comments from the public, resulting in more than 3,600 unique names.

“The defense secretary is required to implement a plan to rename, modify or remove Confederacy-related names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia by Jan. 1, 2024. The work was estimated to cost $62.5 million.”

The possibility of Lake Lanier being renamed has caused a stir locally.

Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said she doesn’t want to see the name changed and was unaware that Lake Lanier “was included in this federal review.”

“Lake Lanier is our community,” she said, adding that the chamber “will look at this and send a statement to officials,” including Clyde, Warnoff and Ossoff.

Gainesville Mayor Sam Couvillon said, “I feel like asking for the name of Lake Lanier to change is not practical and would only create confusion and problems.”

Clyde Morris, a board member with advocacy group Lake Lanier Association, said, “We think the connection between the Confederacy and the namesakes (of the lake and dam) are really too remote to justify changing the names of the lake and the dam.

“Both (Lanier and Buford) served for very short periods of time in the Confederacy, and they had a whole lot of other accomplishments in their lives.”

Lake Lanier’s history traces to 1945, when the Corps of Engineers recommended a dam in the Buford area. A groundbreaking ceremony for Buford Dam was held March 2, 1950.

Sidney Lanier’s ballad “Song of the Chattahoochee,” an ode to the river flowing “out of the hills of Habersham and down through the valleys of Hall,” secured his legacy’s immortality as the man-made lake was named in his honor upon its filling in 1956.

Algernon Buford’s Confederate past isn’t mentioned on the city of Buford’s website, which describes the Richmond, Va., resident as president of the Atlanta and Richmond Air-Line Railroad, a lawyer, University of Virginia graduate, Virginia state legislator and “of distinguished Virginian ancestry.”

This article was originally published in the Gainesville Times, a sister publication of DCN.