When residents on some of Georgia’s most popular lakes opened their mailboxes last month, they were surprised to learn their dock fees would be increasing up to 377%.
“The way we found out about this was that we got a letter in the mail that says, ‘By the way, your next renewal is going up to $835,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who lives on Lake Lanier.
The letters spurred questions from residents and congressmen alike. So far, they’re not satisfied by the answers.
For the past 12 years, people owning docks on lakes including Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona had to pay $400 for a new permit or $175 for a renewal. Once paid, the permit is good for five years. But in June, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lakes, announced the fees for both new permits and renewals would go up to $835 on Jan. 1, 2020. The price encompasses a $35 shoreline permit and an $800 administrative fee that covers the real estate license for each dock. The increase affects more than 10,000 dock owners on Lake Lanier alone and thousands more at the six other Corps-managed lakes across Georgia.
The Army Corps is a federal public works agency, the duties of which include managing dams, enforcing water safety and controlling flood risk.
The Army Corps’ South Atlantic Division manages seven Georgia lakes and sets dock fees for all of them. The current price can go up for “licensed items such as water line, electric line and improved walkways,” spokeswoman Kimberly Wintrich said. The new pricing will eliminate fees for those items, which range from $20 to $67. The new flat pricing is a model that all other Army Corps regions have already adopted, Wintrich said.
Lake residents were surprised by the increase and feel like the Army Corps has not sufficiently explained the increase, said John Barker, president of the Lake Lanier Association.
“It certainly caught us off guard,” Barker said. “They were unexpected, and the severe degree of increase is a bit difficult to swallow and understand why.”
The $835 fee has to be paid upfront; payment plans with monthly or annual installments are not available. When broken down, the cost is $167 annually or about $14 monthly.
The large upfront cost could cause problems for some residents, Barker said.
“There’s a lot of retired people on the lake on a fixed income. That kind of increase creates some heartburn,” Barker said. “If you have property on the lake you probably have a few dollars and the heartburn you can get through it if you have to, but we need to be logical and we need to have reasons when we have these radical increases.”
The Army Corps evaluated its administrative costs over the course of a year and a half to determine what fee increase was necessary, Wintrich said.
“We believe with these changes customer service and regulatory compliance will increase to an acceptable level and will help in being good stewards of the public lands,” Wintrich said.
Permit holders say they were not consulted about the fee increase and weren’t aware one was coming before the June announcement. Both lakefront residents and members of Congress have said the Corps’ justification for the increase has been insufficient. A group of Congressmembers, including Collins, Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, and Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, asked the Army Corps to justify the increase in a letter. The response they received did not provide clear explanations, Collins said.
“Frankly, they were dismissive of us even asking the question,” Collins said.
Collins and his colleagues are still seeking answers. Bringing the Army Corps before a congressional committee is an option, but one Collins hopes they do not have to resort to.
The reasongiven to residents was that there had been no increase since 2006, said Mike Berg, a lakefront resident and vice president of the Lake Lanier Association. An Army Corps press release says the $800 administrative fee will “cover costs the Corps incurs for the issuance or re-issuance” of the $35 licenses.
The increased fees are not earmarked for the lakes where the docks are located, but go back to the Army Corps’ general fund, Collins said. More Army Corps staff on the lake, more consistent lake levels and help in cleanup efforts are some things residents say they’d like to come out of the steep fee increase.
“Tell me what you’re going to do with the extra money, and then we’ll talk,” Baxter said.
GEORGIA LAKES AFFECTED BY DOCK FEE INCREASE
Walter F. George Lake
West Point Lake
J. Strom Thurmond Lake
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