Advocates say they don’t want to battle with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but such action may be needed after news of the bomb the corps has dropped on West Point Lake.
Two months ago, buried in the technical addendum to a legal filing, the corps proposed adjusting the “rule curve” so that the annual fall and winter draw down of the lake would begin in September instead of November.
This action, if it goes through, would drastically shorten the summer season of a lake that already sees its use severely affected by low levels. Northern sections of West Point Lake have been nothing but mudflats since summer this year.
Local lake watchers have asked the corps for years to raise West Point Lake’s winter level, allowing it to be a year-round lake. A higher level allowing for year-round use could mean an economic impact to the area of up to $709 million. It would mean lakeside residents who have invested in docks, boats and other amenities would have full use of the lake and likely higher property values. It would mean local mom-and-pop bait and tackle and other lake-related businesses could thrive, instead of being forced to go out of business as many have since the last major drought in 2007.
But the requests, as well as others, have fallen on deaf ears. Local representatives may as well ask Santa for a pony while they’re at it.
Not only that, the proposal to effectively shorten West Point’s summer by two months has all the markings of something that was done on the sly. Don’t be mistaken, it’s not the local corps’ employees at West Point Lake who are the bad guys here. It’s the corps representatives in Mobile, Ala., Atlanta and Washington, D.C., who deserve the blame.
Local government leaders have done yeoman’s work in recent years to build rapport with corps leaders, making multiple trips to Washington, D.C., Mobile, Ala., and anywhere else they could bend the corps’ ear. They have done their best to educate congressmen and others on the highly technical aspects of lake operations. Everyone in the region pitched in money in 2007 for an economic study on the lake to put a number on its value to the area. Since then, environmental and flood studies have been done to measure environmental impact and the impact of what higher levels would do downstream.
In 2009 when the corps opened public comments for the long overdue update to the water control manuals, hundreds of local residents came out and gave their input. When the corps reopened comments earlier this year, more people have written letters in support of the lake.
After all that effort, our locals got a call two months ago from someone left in Mobile with a conscience, who suggested we check out the most recent legal filings in Atlanta’s effort to secure Lake Lanier for drinking water.
Buried in the technical reports was the proposal. It’s amazing no one at City Hall had a stroke.
It makes no sense whatsoever that the summer pool for West Point Lake should have any bearing on Lake Lanier’s use on the other side of Atlanta and local leaders are, to say the least, flummoxed by the plan.
No one knows exactly when the shortened season should begin. It could start when the water control manuals are done (and a draft of that isn’t due for another year). But the corps arbitrarily proposed this plan and could arbitrarily start it whenever they want.
Not only is the life of the lake in the balance, another major economic event for the area could be impacted by this. The Bassmaster Elite Series is scheduled to come back to the lake in May. But the fishermen aren’t allowed to fish the lake in the weeks leading up to the tournament so they’re doing the scouting now. A low level and the threat of a shorter season could be a deciding factor for whether the tournament comes here at all.
The only option left is for residents to once again let the corps know through the public comment process that this is one of the worst ideas they’ve ever come up with.
The current “scoping” period for comments ends Jan. 12, so there’s not a lot of time. The city, the county and the chamber have issued an official “call to action” and created a form letter residents can sign. The letters are available at the Troup County Government Center, LaGrange City Hall and LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce and online at those organizations’ websites.
It’s time to tell the corps we will not stand for its plan.