remnants of steel-hulled boat removed from lake

Debris from abandoned boats is ugly but also damaging to the health of the lake.

The ghost has been exorcized from Lake Lanier after nearly 20 years. One of the first abandoned boats identified in the Lake Lanier Association’s Abandoned Boats and Derelict Docks initiatives, the steel-hulled vessel, known as the Chestatee Ghost Houseboat, had slowly deteriorated in the Chestatee part of the lake in Lumpkin County.

“This boat had become a highly personal issue for me,” said John Barker, president of the Lake Lanier Association, which has removed more than a dozen abandoned vessels and derelict docks from the lake since the program’s inception six years ago. “It was one of the most difficult projects for us because of its size and location, and we have continued to search for the owner or anyone who knew about its history.”

This abandoned houseboat was one of the motivators for Barker joining the association. “The boat was an eyesore, but even more importantly, it was a huge threat to the lake, both from a safety standpoint and environmentally,” he said. “When a vessel is abandoned, it still contains oil, fuel and other health and environmental hazards that can pollute the lake and harm wildlife. All those years it sat there and indeed was a major factor in our initiating this program.”

Barker joined the association around 2015 and helped initiate the group’s successful Abandoned Boats and Derelict Docks program. “Over the years, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Natural Resources, law enforcement and the Hall and Forsyth County Solicitors to create procedures and processes to locate the owners of these vessels and put some teeth into seeking reparations and legal actions to get them to pay the costs of removing them.

Over the years, community and commercial partnerships have figured significantly in the program’s success. Companies like Marine Specialties Inc., Cato Marine, RPM and TowBoatUS brought their expertise to the projects, as well as their equipment and manpower to ensure that the boats were removed safely.

The Chestatee Ghost’s location made it difficult to remove. The shallow muddy water in a narrow section of the lake hindered access and maneuverability. As time went on, the steel hull continued to sink into the water and mud. As it did, the structure fell apart.

“The exorcism of the Ghost Boat was a feat of engineering,” said Jennifer Flowers, executive director of the association. “Marine Specialties, led by owner Tom Childs, used procedures not normally seen during boat removals, bringing in heavy equipment, a barge and dock floats. It was quite an operation.”

The steel hull and a large area of scattered debris were removed in stages. The deteriorated top shell of the boat was dragged into the barge for disposal and the hull was placed on dock floats to be pushed down the narrow channel to a nearby boat ramp.

All the components and debris were lifted onto a truck and taken to a landfill.

From there it was placed on a truck and taken to its final resting place, in the landfill.

“For years it has been rumored that Lake Lanier was haunted,” Flowers said. “Most people who regularly visit the lake know this is just urban legend. But now that the Chestatee Ghost Boat is in the landfill, people can rest easy that the last remnants of any haunting have been removed.”

Lumpkin County assisted with the landfill disposal. This was the 11th houseboat removed from the lake as part of the Lake Lanier Association’s Abandoned and Derelict Docks and Boats program. This vessel was removed using funds allocated to remove abandoned and derelict vessels from Lake Lanier by the Department of Natural Resources and through partnerships with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Photos: courtesy Lake Lanier Association