If anyone still questions the power wielded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, just ask David Hogan.
His mobile home, and two others, was destroyed by a fire last weekend at Tradewinds Marina, on Clarks Hill Lake near the dam. It could have been worse: If not for the efforts of the Leah Volunteer Fire Department, high winds would have carried the blaze to other homes.
For Hogan, and for Jeffrey Broder and Jim Blanchard, the owners of the other two homes that burned, the Corps adds insult to injury: Not only are their homes gone, but they cant rebuild them. And they have to clean up the debris from their charred trailers before they turn the land back over to the feds.
Im heartbroken, Hogan says. You know you dont own the land, but youre purchasing the right to use the land, and under this policy you lose it.
It isnt really the Corps fault. A decade ago, Congress passed a law that is designed to keep public property from exclusive private use. The current homeowners at Tradewinds and other such federal property were grandfathered in, allowed to keep their homes on the land but not to substantially repair or replace them.
Bolstered by the blessing of Congress, the Corps is unbending in its enforcement role. Residents of the Cherokee area of Lincoln County still havent forgotten the Corps heavy-handed crackdown on property owners who attempted to clean up after a 1998 tornado.
In their defense, Corps officials rightly believe public property belongs to everyone, and everyone should have access to it.
But there should be limits. Clarks Hill Lake, for example, has thousands of miles of shoreline. Only a tiny fraction is developed for public use or leased to private property owners. The rest is just vacant land - largely inaccessible to the public, even as the potentially valuable waterfront provides no property tax revenue for local government.
With all those empty acres, it cant be rationally argued that the tiny lots of Tradewinds homeowners are somehow impeding public access to Clarks Hill Lake. U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., has become Congress best watchdog of Corps excess; he should work to open more of the lakes shoreline to development, and to rein in the Corps enthusiastically stingy stewardship.
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