Corps Issues Warning About Clearing Federal Land Along Lake

By MJ Kneiser, WLHR Radio, Lavonia

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is warning property owners on Lake Hartwell and other lakes not to cut trees on Corps land.

The Corps’ Hartwell Lake Office is investigating and pursuing restitution for seven cases of major destruction to public lands surrounding Lake Hartwell.

Corps Spokesman Russell Wicke said there has been an increase in the number of property owners illegally removing trees from along the shoreline.

“Since the economy is getting better and the lakes are full, people are attempting to market their houses for sale,” Wicke said. “And one thing they think will make their house and property more attractive is to have a clear view of the lake from the home. The problem is, there’s a collar of land around the lake that is public land. So, they own property up to a certain point and that property is federal land that is between their property and the lake.”

So while it appears that property belongs to the property owner, the Corps said it does not.

Corps Spokesperson Billy Birdwell explained that there is a buffer of federal land around all three Savannah River lakes that is there for the lakes’ protection.

“The collar of land around Hartwell Lake varies,” Birdwell said. “It’s based on the topography, because we own the land up to a certain elevation. But it varies from around 50-60 ft to 100 ft or more, that’s about all.”

Birdwell went on to say that narrow collar is important to the quality of the lake water and to the property around the lakes and prevents erosion, which is why it is illegal to cut trees growing on that ribbon of land.

Lake Hartwell has the largest shoreline management program of any Corps of Engineers’ lake in the nation.

According to the Corps, fifty percent of its shoreline is zoned for limited private development, such as a boat dock or access walkway.

If a lake property owner feels trees or vegetation need to be removed, Birdwell said he or she must contact the Corps office first before taking matters into their own hands.

Birdwell said there are stiff consequences for clearing federal land around the lake without permission.

“If they come along and we see that they’re repeat offenders, then we can issue citations, which requires them to go magistrate court and pay a fine,” Birdwell said. “Or in some cases we’ll start revoking their permits. If someone is clearing the land we revoke their dock permit, that gets their attention real fast.”

Another reminder, Birdwell said dock permits are tied to the land, not to the property owner.

“So if a permit gets revoked, it stays revoked, even if the property is sold and there’s a new owner, it’s revoked for the new owner as well,” he said.

For questions about authorized activities on Hartwell Lake public lands, or to report potential violations of shoreline use, contact the Hartwell Lake office toll-free at 888-893-0678.