Federal officials pause plan to rename Georgia's Lake Lanier

Radko Jonas jumps into the water to retrieve a life vest that blew away as rain clouds approach at Lake Lanier on July 19, 2016, in Gainesville, Ga. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday, March 10, 2023, it is pausing a plan to rename the lake and the associated Buford Dam, both named after former Confederate soldiers, after local residents objected. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Federal officials are pausing a plan that could lead to new names for Georgia’s Lake Lanier and Buford Dam after locals objected to changing the monikers of landmarks now named for Confederate soldiers.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a statement Friday announcing the pause pending further guidance from the Department of the Army.

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Republican who represents much of northeast Georgia, said he called the Corps of Engineers Friday to express opposition. He said the pause is “a tremendous victory” and that “renamings would have attempted to rewrite history, impose massive burdensome costs on our community and create unnecessary mass confusion.”

Lake Lanier is an enormous reservoir spanning almost 58 square miles (150 square kilometers) and impounding the Chattahoochee River northeast of Atlanta. It was named for poet Sidney Lanier when it was built after World War II. Lanier served as a private in the Confederate army and later wrote “Song of the Chattahoochee,” a poem about the river.

Buford Dam is named after the nearby town of Buford, which takes its name from Lt. Col. Algernon Sidney Buford, who served in the Virginia militia during the Civil War. The Georgia town is named after Buford because he became president of a railroad that helped create the town after the war.

Hours before announcing the pause in the renaming process, The Times of Gainesville reported that the Mobile District of the Corps of Engineers sent out a news release and unveiled a website seeking input and aiming to pick new names by year’s end. The corps said it was following a 2021 federal law which governs renaming military bases christened for confederates, including Georgia’s Fort Gordon and Fort Benning. Fort Gordon is becoming Fort Eisenhower, while Fort Benning is becoming Fort Moore.

The Mobile District said it will continue to solicit public comment about new names for the lake and dam, but said choosing them is up to Congress.

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, a south Georgia Republican who was a member of the commission that suggested new military base names, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the commission never intended for Lake Lanier to be renamed.

Officials in the Gainesville area also oppose the change.

Clyde Morris, a board member with advocacy group Lake Lanier Association, told The Times on Friday that connections between the Confederacy, Lanier and Buford are “really too remote” to justify changing the names, saying each man is better known for something other than their time in the military.