By Pamela A. Keene

An abandoned houseboat in the Oakwood/Gainesville area of Lake Lanier continues to be at the top of the radar for the Lake Lanier Association. “The issue is getting worse by the week and we’re concerned that it will result in possible contamination of the lake if it’s not addressed soon. Having an abandoned vessel on the shoreline affects water quality and recreational use, and it’s a blight on the lake,” said Joanna Cloud, executive director of the lake-advocacy group.

“We’ve had several meetings with various government entities over the past month and the situation seems to be stalled. We realize that this is a complex issue because the former owner passed away and there’s no chain of ownership beyond him that we can identify, but we are remaining vigilant that something will be resolved sooner rather than later.”

Cloud said that the issue first came to the attention of the association in early fall and the group began work to find the responsible party. It contacted the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Hall County law enforcement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Buford Project Operations personnel and even the media to push for some sort of next step to get the boat removed.

“When it was first discovered, the houseboat was fully afloat and could have easily been towed to a secure location that would not have the potential for its on-board fluids from gas, batteries and the head to pollute the lake,” she said. “However, with the hard rains we’ve had this fall, the boat is now almost completely sunk and will cost a great deal more to remove it once the issue of ownership is resolved and we – or someone – is given the authority to remove it.”

The association began an abandoned vessels/abandoned dock removal initiative almost two years ago with cooperation from the Corps of Engineers on Lanier. The group has removed several vessels since that time, including a large beached houseboat and a smaller run-about boat, with the help and financial support of area businesses. In each case, the Corps has issued a letter of authorization to the association.

When the Corps was contacted by Lakeside several weeks ago, a spokesperson said that the Corps would be looking at creating an overarching document to cover an arrangement with the association. “Work has not begun on the document yet,” said Pat Robbins, legislative and public affairs chief of the Corps’ Mobile District Office. “We are still trying to determine a way forward that would not depend on the particulars of each case scenario.”

As for the specific houseboat issue, the Corps is maintaining communications. “The Corps continues to communicate with Hall County to understand how the probate process works in this case,” Robbins said. “The Corps has determined that this vessel does not pose a threat to public safety, is not a hazard to navigation, is not or has not damaged the project, and does not impact the accomplishment of project missions.”

Robbins continued. “As we have always stated, we would like to continue to work with the Lake Lanier Association on the removal of abandoned vessels/docks. What has to be understood is that we do not have the appropriated funds to do anything with these vessels that do not meet the criteria (pose a threat to public safety, is a hazard to navigation, has damaged or is damaging the project, and does impact project missions),” he said.

“As I am sure you are aware, our budget for this project has essentially been the same for the past 10 years, yet costs have continued to rise. That is why the LLA is a great partner and their help is so important. Without them, the previous successes would not have occurred.  We will do what we can to assist them through the processes.”

Posted online 12/28/15