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Many area businesses suffering through long drought

POSTED: January 13, 2008 5:04 a.m.

Daniel Jones has seen hard times in the boat business before, but the double whammy of a drought-ravaged lake and soft economy is tough to take.

"It’s real tough, especially when people aren’t coming to their lake homes," Jones said. "They’re not going to care about boats."

Jones’ company, Bolling Bridge Marine, has been in business for 30 years. He weathered the difficult drought of the late 1980s, but this one has hit Jones and his competitors pretty hard.

"Interest in new boats is dead; it’s nonexistent," Jones said.

But he says politics, not the drought, is really to blame.

"It’s not a drought that is letting all this water out," he said. "They’ve (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) been getting away with it for 25 years and they’ll continue getting away with it until somebody does something about it."

He said there is one bright spot for his business.

"Trailer business has been pretty good," he said, explaining that many owners who previously left their crafts in the water are now having to take them out.

While low lake levels have kept some customers away, others just can’t afford the luxury of boat ownership, he said.

"It’s not something you’ve got have," Jones said. "If it’s making the house payment or buying a boat, the house wins every time."

He said there will be a business casualty or two in the area from the decline in sales and predicts even more if things don’t improve in 2008.

The story is also gloomy for marinas on Lake Lanier, including some which have had to move their slips further into the water.

In one case, Starboard Cove Marina at Flowery Branch had to remove boats from the water and store them on dry land.

Another group suffering huge losses from the drought is the landscape and plant industry.

The Cumming-based Urban Agriculture Council says that their industry, which includes retail garden centers, floriculturists, turf grass and sod growers, the nursery and horticulture industry, landscape architects, landscape installation and maintenance, green wholesalers, florists and golf courses, has lost hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the drought.

Hall County Extension Agent Billy Skaggs said that those in the plant business are suffering.

"It’s extremely tough for the retail garden centers, wholesale nurseries and the landscape industry," Skaggs said.

"Their opinion is they have been singled out, in terms of taking the brunt of the watering restrictions."

The council, a trade association, has made appeals to the state Environmental Protection Division to loosen the restrictions on new planting.

"The best time to plant new trees and shrubs is in the fall and winter, so right now, in landscape construction, they should be going strong," Skaggs said. "Right now, it’s just about impossible to sell that."

The council says its industry represents an $8 billion impact to Georgia’s economy through 7,000 companies, with 80,000 employees.



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