Highlights of May 20, 2013 Meeting
Panel consisting of Mr. Al Olsen (the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Antique Boat Society), Mr. Michael Rich (Harbor Light Marina), Mr. Larry Torrence (Lake Hartwell Marketing Alliance) and Ms. Nicki Meyers (Executive Director of Hart County Chamber of Commerce) discussed economic impact of low lake levels on businesses in Hart County. Ms. Myers reviewed our land usage, our status as a “seasonal town” and the need to make Hart County a 12 month destination for tourism. The lack of safe water levels and the closure of Hart State park and other campgrounds reduced our visitor rate, in turn contributing to failure of restaurants and other businesses and reduction in local tax revenues. She said good water levels bring visitors and their spending contributes four million dollars in economic impact to Hart County. Mr. Rich said his business consists mainly of fuel sales, slip and boat rentals. Their records indicate they experience a 30% drop in business when the lake is down a mere five feet. The severe low levels of the previous years forced large boat owners (such as houseboats) to move their boats to lakes which do not experience drastic water level changes. These customers have not returned and only 60% of available slips are now rented vs. a 90% rental prior to the low water level years. Less income yields less local tax revenue.
Mr. Olsen spoke of the difficulties of planning a large event as the Antique Boat Festival on Lake Hartwell due to inconsistent water levels. Boat owners and visitors from distant States will not participate if water hazards are present and ramps are not safe and accessible. In 2013 members showed 40 boats and 2,500 visitors attended, generating hotel, restaurant, and fuel income as well as income to the Boy Scouts of Hartwell projects. Mr. Torrence emphasized the need to better address how the low lake levels adversely affect the economic issues of all three Georgia counties surrounding Lake Hartwell. He addressed the fact that when lake levels are down not only major events are cancelled but lake home owners do not visit or entertain which reduces revenue to our county.Mr. Olsen stressed that we need to request and require that lake management policy be based on 2013 data.
Representative Alan Powell commented on topics ranging from Corps lake management regulations, salt water intrusion, Georgia parks and State revenues, and the Clemson river study. Hart Cable recorded the meeting and televised it several times.