Georgia Program Shines Light on Dangerous Lake Waters

By JEFF GILL, The Times | June 25, 2013

An effort to put solar-powered lights on navigation markers and buoys on Georgia’s Lake Lanier is moving forward with agreement from the previously resistant U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association was able to sway the corps after much discussion.

“This is going to be their baby,” said Tim Rainey, the corps’ operations project manager at Lake Lanier.

“We’re going to agree to it, even with the increased liability that it brings, but it will be up to the (LLA) to maintain the lights. If one of the markers goes down, we’ll put it back up. That’s going to be our contribution.”

The lake group has decided to start small, with a pilot project involving 11 lights, President Val Perry said.

“We had a task force to figure out which were the best places to put the first (batch),” which will be put up mostly south of Browns Bridge straddling Hall and Forsyth counties, he said. “I’m hopeful we can get them done by the end of the year.”

The initiative has its roots in efforts started 12 years ago by lake resident Bill Tannahill.

“At that time, the lake was really down and hazards were all over the place,” the Forsyth County resident said. “I was afraid this could present real safety issues for the nighttime boaters, especially fishermen.”

Marina officials, Forsyth County authorities and others supported the project.

The corps, however, “declined my offer and I shelved the program,” Tannahill said.

After tragedies on the lake last summer put boating safety in the spotlight, resulting in new state laws, the LLA approached Tannahill about his plan.

“I had to dig up all of my information and get started again,” he said.

Tannahill complimented Rainey on working well with the association over the matter.

“This is the best cooperation I’ve ever gotten out of the corps,” he said. “Basically, they’ve given us a blessing for this, and I think it’s going to be a good program.”

Rainey said “we want to get some details finalized before we actually go out there and put one (of the lights) up.”

The effort also could ultimately involve other groups, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

“Right now, our agreement is just with the LLA,” Rainey said.

“We have a few implementation details to work out,” he said. “Hopefully that can be done within a couple of weeks.”

One of Rainey’s concerns is if one of the lights goes out and is not replaced in a timely manner.

“People may get used to seeing a light on a particular marker, and if that light is out – or even if the (marker and light) is gone – it just adds an increased layer of maintenance to keep the public safe, an increased layer of liability,” Rainey said.

“And I’ve stressed to the (LLA) we can’t really spend any money on it, so they’ll do fundraisers, volunteer hours, whatever it takes, and we’ll see where (the program) goes,” Rainey said.

Perry said the association also is looking at putting lights on bridges, such as the one going to Lake Lanier Islands resort in south Hall County.

“They’ve got probably six or eight spans where you can go underneath the bridge,” he said. “We could put up lights there that say here’s the one you should use.”

Perry said the association has conferred with West Point Lake Coalition, which has started a similar program at the west Georgia lake.

He lauded that group’s efforts during the LLA’s annual membership meeting on June 5.

Dick Timmerberg, executive director of the LaGrange-based group, said his group earned the corps’ approval for a similar program in 2005.

“It has been, by far, the most successful program we’ve ever done,” he said.

The idea started with the coalition’s Water Safety Council.

“We have an awful lot of people who use the lake at night,” Timmerberg said. “Summer can be ungodly hot and it’s nice to get out in the evening.”

The group so far has installed about 160 blinking lights, which cost about $125 each and have a life span of two to three years.

“The biggest challenge has been the fundraising to sustain the program,” Timmerberg said.

Tannahill said he believes the same success can be replicated on Lanier.

“It’s been very well received at West Point and, in talking to the marinas over here, I think it will be well received here,” he said. “Once we start placing them on the lake, I’m hoping we’ll generate some donations, and that would really help us out.”

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