Lake Martin

I think we would all agree that Lake Martin has been busier than ever since early spring. In addition to our fulltime residents, many out-of-town homeowners and renters have taken refuge from the pandemic by coming to Lake Martin, where they can enjoy open air, beautiful scenery, going outside without fear, gorgeous sunsets, swimming and boating. The full lake level that we enjoy today is the result of a lot of hard work by many individuals, community leaders, public agencies, organizations – including the Home Owners and Boat Owners Association – and local, state and federal governments. As the incoming president of HOBOs, I wanted to know more about what an important part HOBOs played in making this happen. 

HOBOs is a nonprofit, all-volunteer advocacy group formed to protect and preserve Lake Martin and to represent the stakeholders of Lake Martin. It was started by a group of individuals that were concerned about our lake levels. We had experienced a severe drought that began in the winter of 2006 and lasted into April 2008. The lake was down 3 feet, and by July 2007, it was down 6 feet. These concerned citizens formed a steering committee, advertised, sent out flyers and put up road signs to encourage people from all areas of the lake to join in the effort to protect Lake Martin. 

 There were two organizational meetings of HOBOs. Plans were finalized at a meeting held on July 21, 2007. A nominating committee was chosen to work on a slate, and the original board was formed: president, Jesse Cunningham; first vice president, Steve Merrick; second vice president, Toni Adcock; secretary, Judy Heinzen; and treasurer, Carey Mullican. The six directors-at-large were Bryan Bartley, Bill Adcock, Kay Thomas, Jim Ankerson, Leon Archer and Bill Chapman. Area managers were named, and committees were formed. HOBOs prepared to go to work.

Our board members attended multiple meetings between Alabama Power Company and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during the relicensing process for the Lake Martin and Martin Dam Project. During this process, FERC made an initial decision to deny the 3-foot increase in winter water levels. Because of FERC’s denial, the HOBOs and other groups filed objections and requested a meeting for reconsideration of the decision.

Due to the efforts of HOBOs’ 2,100 members and other lake area advocates, we were able to organize a group of more than 600 Lake Martin stakeholders who attended the requested meeting with FERC. Because of these efforts, FERC reversed its decision, and our lake now has 3 more feet of water during the winter. This volunteer effort lasted for many years, requiring a huge amount of time, countless emails, revisions, proposals, challenges about data and understanding how each piece of the puzzle worked with, or against, the others, including the Federal Power Act, The National Environmental Policy Act and The Army Corps of Engineers.

An agreement was reached, issuing Alabama Power a new 30-year license to operate Martin Dam, raising the winter lake level by 3 feet and conditional approval to extend summer water levels into the fall when there is sufficient rainfall.

Through the efforts of HOBOs and other organizations, our lake level now will be reduced each year by 7 feet from Thanksgiving week through the last week of February. This is a great improvement over the old rule, which was a 10-foot reduction, and it also allows our lake to fill faster in the spring.

In addition to representing Lake Martin in the FERC agreement, HOBOs is active in many other ways. We initiated a Neighborhood Watch program, working with Sheriff Jimmy Abbott. We now have 11 active Neighborhood Watch programs in hopes of making the lake a safer place. We have purchased Neighborhood Watch and Treasured Lake signs that are in locations all over the lake. We are grateful to the Tallapoosa County Highway Department for installing these signs.

HOBOs has represented Lake Martin at meetings and conferences that might impact Lake Martin and at many meetings and hearings of the Alabama Legislature. We participate in and/or fund many civic, educational and environmental programs.  

We previously advocated for passage of House Bill 284, but due to the pandemic, the bill was delayed. HB 284 is known as the 100-foot rule, which would require vessels to stay a minimum of 100 feet from any boat, swimmer, shoreline, structure, pier, seawall, etc. The current rule is 25 feet, which is much too close.

At our 2020 annual meeting in February, speakers Lt. Mark Fuller from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Marine Police and State Rep. Ed Oliver, encouraged all stakeholders to contact their representatives to show support of this bill, which was heading toward the Legislature. We will continue working toward getting it passed.  

We are entirely funded by our membership dues. None of the things we have been able to accomplish would have happened without a strong membership. The cost to join is minimal: Individual membership is $15; family $25; standard business $50; supporting business $100; patron business $250. Members are not required to do anything or to attend any meetings, although attending the annual meeting will get your money’s worth with the full, free breakfast that we serve.

Interest has waned since the FERC agreement was reached; however, Georgia and Florida are still in arbitration, so Lake Martin could still be impacted. We need to be vigilant and not take our water for granted. HOBOs could not have been successful during the negotiations to reach the FERC agreement without the support of a strong membership, which was 2,100 at our peak. We have many things we want to accomplish. We also want to address concerns that have been brought to our attention by individuals and at our annual meeting.

We want to continue to push HB 284. With the increase in PWCs, boats and rental vessels, we want to address and improve boating safety concerns. We want to protect the interests of all stakeholders, the homeowners and boat owners. The more members we have, the louder our voice will be and the better our chance of being heard. Please join HOBOs and be a part of the opportunity to make positive changes and to protect and preserve Lake Martin. You can join online at our website, www.lakemartinhobos.com.   

~ Steve Smith is president of Lake Martin Homeowners and Boat Owners Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to protect the lake. Learn more at lakemartinhobos.com.