HOBOs mission to preserve lake
By Jesse Cunningham | HOBOs
In early June of 2007, the drought was on, the lake was down to 483’, seven feet below full, and no one seemed to be able to do anything.
One Saturday afternoon that June, a group of 32 concerned homeowners gathered and decided they should do something to represent the lake. The Lake Martin Home Owners and Boat Owners, Inc. (HOBOs) was founded.
The stated goal of the HOBOs is simply ”Preserving the Memories for Future Generations.” What better goal could any organization try to achieve! Established as a non-profit, membership driven, all-volunteer, advocacy group, the HOBOs knew they had no corporate clout or political connections, but we knew we would have strength in numbers if we could spread the word and gain the support of those who love Lake Martin. Shortly, membership swelled to over 2,100 and the organization began to receive the respect necessary to deal with issues affecting the future of The Lake.
Over the past five years the challenges have varied from installing fish havens from Christmas trees, to conducting several “Renew Our Rivers” lake cleanup projects, to representing the best interests of the lake and its homeowners in the current Relicensing of Martin Dam, which is conducted by Alabama Power Company (APCo) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The conditions on the lake in 2007 provided the perfect storm of how not to prepare for a drought, respond to the drought, or prevent the same thing from happening again.
During the spring of 2007 the lake level rose very slowly and peaked in early May at 486’, four feet low. Alabama Power requested approval from FERC to reduce downstream releases in May, but the Corps of Engineers required an environmental study (downstream political interests) and approval was delayed until August 2007.
During the delay, the lake level dropped another six feet to 480’. Political and corporate interests downstream chose 2007 as the year to attempt to dredge the Alabama River for a new plant that promised to ship its product by barge. The river was so low the Corps of Engineers wasted lake water in an attempt to float the dredge.
By the time the dredging was finished, Lake Martin was down another 5.5’ to 475.5’, its lowest level in decades. The company requiring the dredging failed within a year.
What is the significance of this recent past history? The most important lesson learned by the stakeholders of Lake Martin is simply that citizens must look out for their own interests, and don’t expect those with profit or political motives to watch out for your interests.
Since the drought, HOBOs are proud to point to the progress made by Alabama Power, FERC, the Corps of Engineers and state agencies in being more responsive to environmental changes and how they affect the lake. We commend Alabama Power for their efforts to protect the lake levels since 2007.
The way to “drought proof” the lake as much as possible is to permanently raise the winter lake level so the lake can re-fill each spring, even during a drought. HOBO members were surveyed in 2008, and the members voted to increase the winter level by 5’ to 485’.
In addition, members requested that the summer pool be extended from the current Labor Day to Oct. 15 each year. The higher winter level and the extended level in the fall would not only help keep the lake full during dry periods, but a full lake would increase usage, help businesses dependant on lake visitors and really help the whole three-county area’s economy.
When APCo filed their license application, a three-foot increase in winter pool was requested. The fall extension requested contains criteria controlled only by APCo. History proves that some of the required criteria to allow the fall extension have never been met.
Even though studies funded by APCo indicate that an increase of the winter pool is easily achievable for a 4’ or 5’ increase, it appears the company chose the most profitable alternative (about $300,000/yr).
Research by the HOBOs has found that Martin Dam only represents a tiny 0.24 percent (2010) of APCo’s total energy production; in fact, the entire Tallapoosa River system (Harris, Martin, Yates and Thurlow Dams) only represent 0.62 percent of total production. Further, research of county records indicates that the 7,500 lake front properties represent tax appraisal values of $3.61 billion, and according to APCo’s own study, if the lake’s winter pool level is raised to 5’, property values will increase to $4.06 billion.
We feel the $450 million increased economic impact and tax value provided by increasing the winter water level by five feet far exceeds the slight change in revenue for APCo.
Let’s start the chant, “Five Feet, Five Feet, FIVE FEET!”
Jesse Cunningham is president of the HOBOs. The HOBOs plan to use this space in the future to keep all Lake Martin stakeholders informed about issues affecting your Lake. To join or review documents and filings please visit www.lakemartin.org. Cunningham may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.