Some property owners who live along Lake Hartwell have been told they could lose the ability to keep docks on the property if they don’t stop illegally clearing brush and trees on the shore.
The Army Corps of Engineers maintains the large lake along South Carolina’s northwest border with Georgia and owns a thin “collar” of land that rings the water’s edge. The public land goes about 50-100 feet inland from the shoreline. Lakefront property must obtain a permit before clearing brush inside that collar.
But Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said there has been an “unprecedented” increase this summer of landowners either going beyond the scope of their permit or removing brush and trees without approval.
“They wouldn’t think about going over to their neighbor on the left or the right and cutting down tree or brush on their property,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “But they think nothing about going onto public property that they do not own and doing the same thing.”
He said the natural growth along the lake is there for several reasons: it helps keep runoff from flowing freely into the water, can slow erosion, and creates a natural habitat for animals.
“We have the trees and brush going there for a reason,” he said.
Birdwell said property owners who did not realize their mistake usually agree to voluntary compliance, meaning they must allow the brush to grow back. However, repeat or particular severe offenders risk having their permits revoked, including a separate permit that allows them to keep a boat dock along the lake. They could also face stiff fines.
Birdwell said the Corps has only revoked six permits in the 50 years the agency has maintained the lake. but adds up to seven landowners are currently under investigation and could lose the permits this summer. A majority are on the South Carolina side, which is more developed than Georgia’s end of the lake.
Lake Hartwell has the largest shoreline management program of any Corps of Engineers’ lake in the nation. Fifty percent of its shoreline is zoned for limited private development, such as a boat dock or access walkway.