Originally created 02/17/99

Corps cleanup aid sought



DOUBLE BRANCHES, Ga. -- Last May, after tornadoes skipped along Thurmond Lake's wooded shoreline, Lee Crawley figured it would take a while before things returned to normal.

"There were trees down everywhere, and my pontoon boat -- well, it was shot," said Mr. Crawley, a resident of Plantation Point subdivision, accessible only by a private, gated road in Lincoln County.

Although residents quickly cleaned up their yards, about 30 acres of nearby public land remains choked with debris -- creating an eyesore and fire hazard, according to residents.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake's public areas, has resisted requests to devote taxpayer resources to clearing the land, although salvage crews have removed timber and access trails have been reopened.

Now residents are angry and casting jealous eyes across the lake toward another storm-damaged subdivision, Indian Cove, where debris has been removed and homes are separated from the water only by freshly seeded grass.

"They're in good shape over there and we're in a disaster area over here," said Brian White, who turned out with other residents Tuesday to air complaints to U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood and Corps officials.

The Indian Cove residents were similarly upset with the Corps' slow progress in clearing storm debris from public lands, and three homeowners took it upon themselves to clear an unobstructed view -- right up to the water.

The Corps punished those residents for illegally clearing the apron of public land that separates private homes from the waterfront. The residents, whose dock and utility permits were revoked, are appealing.

"In the end, it probably increased the value of those homes," Mr. Crawley said. "Look at the view they have."

Mr. Norwood, after visiting the area Tuesday, asked the Corps to come up with a way to beautify the Plantation Point shoreline areas.

"It's the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers to manage that land," he said. "The question is, will the federal government be a good land manager, or will they do it as cheaply as possible?"

Also touring the site Tuesday was Col. Joseph Schmitt, the Corps' Savannah District commander, who said he would take the residents' concerns under further advisement.

But he made no promises.

"I also have to look at it from the federal government's perspective, to ensure that our tax dollars are spent wisely," Col. Schmitt said. "But we do want to work with you in a cooperative spirit."

If the Corps cannot finance a cleanup that will appease the homeowners, perhaps the Corps could come up with a way to allow the residents to undertake the project themselves, Mr. Norwood said.

Issues at hand

Residents in Lincoln County's Plantation Point subdivision want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clear and beautify storm-damaged public land that separates private homes from the waterfront.The Corps has salvaged timber and reopened access trails but has resisted requests for more beautification, saying it would benefit only owners of nearby private property.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood wants the Corps to find a way to finance the cleanup, or perhaps make exceptions to shoreline management rules that now prohibit the residents from undertaking the cleanup themselves.

Robert Pavey covers environmental issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.