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Sep. 20, 2020
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Abandoned and derelict docks pose challenges on Lanier

By Pamela A. Keene 
 
In some cases, no one knows where they come from. In others, owners have simply chosen not to maintain them.  “The issue of abandoned and derelict docks has been on our radar for a number of years, but for some reason, it’s been so much worse in the past year,” said Jennifer Flowers, executive director with the Lake Lanier Association. “In partnership with the Corps of Engineers, local law enforcement and the courts, we are upping our pursuit to identify the responsible parties around the lake and protect the lake and its shoreline.”
 
The association began addressing eyesores and environmental threats to the lake nearly eight years ago. In 2015, the board created the “Abandoned Vessels and Derelict Docks” committee, headed by Matt Williams, to actively identify owners of abandoned boats and derelict docks.
 
“Since that time, we’ve been able to remove more than a dozen abandoned houseboats and cruisers from the lake,” she said. “Over the years we have been working with the Corps, the Department of Natural Resources and courts in Hall and Forsyth counties to pursue those owners and recoup the costs involved.”
 
As for abandoned docks, each one references back to a specific dock permit issued by the Corps of Engineers. Those dock permits must be renewed every five years, plus any structural changes must be approved by the Corps; that includes a site visit by a Shoreline Management ranger to discuss changes with the owner.
 
“Lake Lanier reached its carrying capacity of 10,615 docks several years ago, so mostly now it’s about people either replacing their docks or making additions to them,” said Tim Rainey, operations project manager for Laker Lanier. “However, we’re also seeing old or dilapidated docks simply being hauled off across the lake or into coves. It has been a challenge to identify who is responsible for this – whether it’s the owners themselves, people who are buying the docks with the intention of relocating them elsewhere, or contractors seeking an easy way to get rid of them.”
 
An inordinate number of abandoned dock floats have been found around War Hill Park in Dawsonville.
“We can’t really pinpoint why this area is more active, but it could be people who are replacing their dock floats with newer materials and pushing the old ones away, or that people are putting them in various coves,” Flowers said. 
 
She mentioned that in some cases, she has seen people offer to remove docks for homeowners through neighborhood social media posts. “They offer to remove docks for homeowners, then simply take the money and dump the docks elsewhere instead of taking them to the landfill or another legal disposal site.” 
 
She cited one abandoned dock in Thompson Creek that over time had all the metal removed, leaving only the wood structure. “Maybe they were selling it for scrap.” 
 
Liability is another issue. “Dock owners who we find are connected to these abandoned docks could be held liable if someone is injured or property is damaged,” Rainey said. “And frankly, this issue has become so rampant that if we can trace an abandoned dock back to a homeowner and show it is their dock, we may even file charges.”
 
The association recently announced a new campaign: “See Something, Say Something,” to encourage people to report abandoned vessels and derelict docks to them. 
 
“Most people and lake contractors handle dock removal by being responsible,” she said. “The Corps requires a transfer of ownership form for homeowners selling or giving away a dock. And if you’re using a contractor to remove your dock, make sure they have the Corps’ form and ask them to take photos of the dock being moved and in its new location.”

Posted online 8/28/20
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