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 Local News  -   Friday, June 29, 2007

Bigger boats, bigger docks
Corps starts moratorium on new docks, but existing docks can be larger

The Times

Tom Reed The Times

Workers at Browns Bridge Dock Co. work on the roof of a dock under construction. In April, the Corps of Engineers enacted a 120-day moratorium on applications for new private docks, though dock builders are busy with replacements docks.

Tom Reed The Times

Land-locked docks such as these two off Clarks Bridge Road devalue property.

About this series

This weekend, The Times resumes a summer-long series, "Lanier's Legacy: Celebrating a Half Century of Lake Lanier," with an examination of the lake's economic impact on the Hall County area.

  • Today: People want to live on or near Lake Lanier, and many of them have boats. That's created a real estate and boat dock boom.

    What's ahead

  • Saturday: The 36,000-acre lake is a magnet for tourism and recreation. And that means big bucks for the local economy.

  • Sunday: It wouldn't be a lake without fishing. We kick off a four-part "A Day on the Lake" with popular activities that are best done early in the morning, such as fishing and paddling.

  • Monday: As the temperature rises, so does activity at local marinas and Lake Lanier Islands. Meanwhile, it's relatively quiet at the Buford Dam powerhouse, a massive structure that never truly sleeps.

  • Tuesday: The summer months are the busiest time of the year on Lake Lanier for rangers with the Department of Natural Resources, as things heat up on the water and at area parks.

  • Wednesday: All that water activity can leave folks tired and hungry. "Day on the Lake" concludes with a look at late afternoon and evening activities, including camping and cooking.

  • Thursday: Complete coverage of local July Fourth festivities on Lanier and elsewhere.

    To read other series articles, click here.

  • When Lake Lanier was built, the typical boat was a small runabout with an outboard motor.

    Fifty years later, the size of the boats has grown with the lake's popularity.

    Go to any of the lake's major channels on a summer weekend and you'll find 30- to 40-foot boats with engines big enough to power a sport utility vehicle.

    Lake homes are bigger. Weekend cabins are being replaced by large permanent homes with 4,000 to 5,000 square feet, many with price tags well above $1 million.

    Larger boats and houses also have brought about changes in docks on Lanier.

    In a 2004 study, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined the maximum number of docks would be 10,615.

    Earlier this year, the corps estimated there are about 500 available permits remaining.

    On April 27, the agency enacted a 120-day moratorium on applications for new private boat dock permits.

    Jonathan Davis, operations project manager for the lake, said the moratorium is necessary to "address the numerous existing applications and appointments to determine where the project stands in relation to the maximum carrying capacity defined in the 2004 shoreline management plan."

    But the moratorium hasn't brought new dock business to a halt.

    Paula Elliott of Browns Bridge Dock Co. said it is a myth that it is impossible to gain approval to improve or replace a dock.

    "It is not hard at all in terms of replacement," Elliott said. "If you fit in the parameters of the corps' regulations, you can get a larger dock."

    Getting a dock in smaller coves, however, could present a problem, she said.

    But in general, "I don't know where this myth is coming from that it is so difficult, but it really is not."

    A dock is no small investment. A typical dock can range in price from $20,000 to $50,000.

    Gone are many of the old wooden docks that once dotted the shoreline of Lanier.

    Modern docks are steel structures kept afloat by enclosed flotation devices. Many now have slips for two boats and offer the feature of a deck above the boat area.

    Under current regulations, the largest dock allowed on Lanier is 32 feet by 32 feet with a 40-foot ramp.

    Much of Elliott's business is replacing worn-out docks.

    "There are so many terrible, old dilapidated docks," Elliott said. "When people are spending the kind of money for lakefront homes, they don't want that old dock.

    "Very few people are refurbishing, they are building new docks."

    The continued low lake levels also have brought a renewed interest in shoreline improvements.

    Elliott said some clients are installing "rip-rap," coarse angular rock used to prevent further erosion of the shoreline.

    The growth of boat parking is not limited to private lots. Companies like Browns Bridge Dock have been building expansion slips for a number of major marinas.

    The marinas have increased the space for specialized crafts, including a growing number of large houseboats and sailboats.

    Among those eyeing the business of boat launching and storage is Gwinnett businessman Virgil Williams, who is the lease owner of Lake Lanier Islands.

    Williams is considering an expansion that would include a boat storage facility off the islands, with a lift to place larger boats in the water.

    The resort has expanded the number of day-use boat slips for visitors who want to reach the resort by water.

    Williams plans to increase that further when a harbor area is built on the site of the current beach and water park.

    Contact: hblackwood@gainesvilletimes.com, (770) 718-3423

    Originally published Friday, June 29, 2007

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