Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan State Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) walks on boat dock "Y" at the Holiday Marina on Lake Lanier in Buford as she explains heading the Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus, which is addressing a number of lake-related issues including boating safety in hopes to change future regulations.
BUFORD -- Renee Unterman is helping take safety issues from the lakehouse to the statehouse.
Unterman, the Republican state senator from Buford, has taken it upon herself to chair the newly formed Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus, made up of four state senators and another handful of state representatives from districts representing parts of Gwinnett, Hall, Forsyth and Dawson counties.
With so many controversial issues surrounding the lake -- like lake levels, the "water wars" and licensing -- Unterman said the time was ripe to make a formal caucus.
"We have a women's caucus, a black caucus, a rural caucus ... I just thought, 'Why not convene a new caucus surrounding the issues of Lake Lanier?'" Unterman told the Daily Post this week.
"Everyone has their own special interest," she added, "and that's why it's really a regional concern and why it needs a caucus."
Spurred on by a number of high-profile deaths this summer, the hottest-button issue surrounding Lanier lately has been safety.
After the tragic death of Buford brothers Jake and Griffin Prince in June -- killed by an alleged drunk boater who caused a hit-and-run crash on the lake -- Gov. Nathan Deal publicly proposed lowering the blood-alcohol threshold for boating under the influence (currently 0.10) to the same limit for on-the-road drivers (0.08).
Others have pitched ideas like necessitating boating driver's licenses and raising ages for mandated lifejacket use.
Unterman said the BUI blood-alcohol change was "pretty much a given."
"It's just not fair to have different levels for driving a boat versus driving a car," she said. "No one has any controversy about that one."
There have been 10 deaths total on Lake Lanier this year; five via drowning, five via boating incidents. That looks great compared to the 17 deaths from 2011, but can also be countered with the fact that the three years prior saw a combined total of just 18.
As Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Melissa Cummings pointed out, statistics on Lake Lanier are hard to attribute to one thing or another.
Despite the death count, current totals for overall boating incidents (36) and injuries (13) would be the lowest in years. The 60 boating under the influence incidents recorded as of Tuesday were already the most since 2004, but could possibly be attributed increased patrol efforts following the Prince brothers' deaths.
Then again, "it is very hard to compare one year to the next when you look at stats," Cummings said.
The Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus is still formulating rules and working on scheduling public hearings, but Unterman essentially said the safety issues it may tackle may be both more and less complicated than they seem.
"A lot of it revolves not around legislation and writing laws; it involves enforcement of current laws," she said. "That goes to the state budget and what happens to the state budget. DNR has been severely cut in the budgetary process."