By Jane Harrison, Posted online at Lakeside News, 10/30/17
The Georgia General Assembly may consider a funding request to put a marine rescue station on Lake Lanier. Renee Unterman, vice-chairperson of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told attendees at a Lanier Legislative Caucus meeting last month that she would recommend funding for a fire and rescue facility on the south end of the lake.
“I think this is a priority,” she told the approximately 20 attendees, most of whom were members of the Lake Lanier Association. She said a rescue station is needed on the lake that hosts 7.5 million visitors annually, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates. She noted that a lakeside unit with personnel and equipment for fire-fighting and medical emergencies could likely provide the quickest and most appropriate response in potential lake disasters, such as a fire at an inland marina where hundreds of boats line up in close proximity.
Discussion pointed to a possible location on Lanier Islands Parkway at the public dock near the Lanier Islands Resort gate. Unterman said she did not know how much money she would request. Legislators convene early next year.
Unterman, of Buford, chairs the caucus of legislators from the five counties touching the lake. Senator Butch Miller and Rep. Matt Dubnik, both of Gainesville, and Rep. David Clark, of Buford, were the only other caucus members at the meeting. Aside from a few representatives from political offices, law enforcement, a real estate agency, and Gainesville marina, the remainder of the audience consisted of LLA members. Emails about the meeting went out to caucus members less than a week before the Oct. 16 meeting. There was no public announcement.
A bill that could require boat purchasers to get a state title for boats has moved out of the Senate rules committee and into the finance committee, Miller reported. When first announced two years ago, the measure drew the ire of numerous boat owners who called legislators complaining about another regulation infringing on their freedom on the water.
Unterman indicated the uproar has simmered down, based on dwindling calls from boaters. Boat titling could purportedly help law enforcement trace and identify stolen boats and provide counties with additional documentation of boat sales for tax purposes. Miller indicated the lack of boat titles in Georgia has made it a hot state for boat thefts. “There are more boats stolen per capita in Georgia than in any state in the nation,” he said.
If made law, the measure would require new purchasers of boats with 25 horsepower or more to get an official Georgia document signifying ownership, just as car owners do. Miller proposed a “one-stop” procedure through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in which boaters could apply for their title and boat registration. Those who purchased boats prior to the proposed bill’s enactment would get boat titles when they renew their registration.
Miller said law enforcement, banks, and insurance companies support the bill. “The fear is of an exorbitant fee,” he said. Philip Burton, Gainesville Marina President and former president of The Marine Trade Association of Metropolitan Atlanta, indicated MTA supports the bill in combination with a sales tax cap. “It needs some work,” he added. LLA officials have said titling would help trace owners of abandoned boats on Lanier.
Executive Director Joanna Cloud said LLA’s community outreach has garnered strong support of the bill around Lanier and metro Atlanta. Unterman suggested outreach needs to extend to south Georgia, where anglers around Lake Blackshear adamantly opposed the bill in the past.
In other reports to the caucus:
- Cloud reported that the $25,000 state allocation and matching funds from Hall and Forsyth County for removing abandoned vessels on Lanier has been exhausted moving four large, steel hulled houseboats. Seventeen docks, two dock/vessel combinations, and 12 vessels remain on the LLA abandoned or derelict dock project list. Hall County Solicitor Stephanie Woodard said she was looking at creative ways to prosecute those who leave vessels and dilapidated docks, possibly with littering charges.
- DNR District Chief Enforcement Officer Johnny Johnson said fatalities, injuries, boating incidents and boating under the influence arrests thus far in 2017 are down from 2016 totals. As of Oct. 16, DNR reported four deaths by drowning, one boating fatality, 11 injuries, 24 boating incidents and 47 BUIs on Lanier compared to nine drownings, eight boating fatalities, 24 injuries, 35 boating incidents, and 62 BUIs in 2016. Johnson credited a statewide education initiative for helping reduce the number of drownings.
- Cloud distributed a chart showing a Lanier summer full pool analysis depicting the percentage of days June-Aug. the lake has measured at full pool since the 1970s. The analysis indicates that the lake attained its summer full pool of 1,071 feet nearly half the time in the 1970s. It was full slightly less in 30 percent of summer days in the 1980s and slightly more than 30 percent in the 1990s. However, the percentage dropped to about 20 percent in the 2000s and about 14 percent this decade. All the while, Georgia’s population, for which Lanier is a major water supplier, more than doubled from about five million to just more than 11 million. LLA officer Wilton Rooks suggested “multiple factors,” not just population growth, drain Lanier. “We’re not suggesting a slow down on growth,” he said, adding a dialogue with downstream users and a management study of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water releases might help determine what is causing lower summer lake levels.
- LLA officials expressed relief that the Georgia EPD kept a Level 1 drought response in 12 counties in the Lake Lanier watershed. The designation limits water use and suggests water municipal suppliers encourage conservation. “The drought may be over, but the impact of the drought lingers on Lanier. It takes the lake a long time to recover,” Cloud said.
- Local real estate agent Sheila Davis, from the Norton Agency, reported lake homes are in demand and inventory is “about half of what it should be. Prices are very strong.”