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Public turns out to discuss Lanier concerns

GAINESVILLE - Hundreds of people crammed into a conference room to tell officials their concerns about Lake Lanier, north Georgia's largest drinking water supply that remains more than 18 feet below full pool.

"It's tough," said Gainesville man Ralph Gage, who lives on the lake's shores. "The economic impact on this whole area is really severe. We need to get something done. We've been fighting this for 40 years."

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials set up stations throughout the Georgia Mountains Center room to explain issues such as water management, socioeconomics and environmental resources that have to be weighed when decided how much water should be released from Buford Dam.

For months, as drought caused little rain to fall in the lake's drainage basin, Georgians criticized the Corps for releasing water to maintain environmental habitats for mussels in Appalachicola Bay. The Corps is working on a new plan to manage the lake.

"I just think the water levels of the lake aren't being managed to support the business community and the community in general," said Dacula businessman Raymer Sale. "I think the human species is pretty important."

In the first hour of the three-hour session, 272 people attended the event, the most heavily attended one next to the 400 who stopped by the LaGrange session, an official said.

Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, who lives along the lake, said he came to the session to get answers about the drought situation and how it could be fixed.

"We want to know when the lake is coming up," Niekro said, explaining that during normal periods he has had up to 13 feet of water below his boat dock, but now there are only inches. "You can't find anyone with the real answer. ... I'm getting tired of weeding under my boat dock."

People can continue to submit comments to the federal agency through Nov. 21 by sending a response to 107 Saint Francis St., Suite 1403, Mobile, AL 36602-9986 or going to www.acf-wcm.com.