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Coalition: Lake Lanier needs new studies

POSTED: December 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Lake Lanier needs a better publicist.

That’s according to the 1071 Coalition, a new organization that’s pushing for government policies that could help fill the lake back up.

The coalition held a kick-off reception and membership drive Tuesday night at Lake Lanier Islands, drawing about 250 people.

Many of those who attended also are members of the Lake Lanier Association, which has been advocating for the lake since 1966.

"We are not a replacement for the Lake Lanier Association," said coalition president Grier Todd. "We will be here for a short time. We expect our lifespan (as a group) will be about four years."

Todd said the coalition has a singular mission: "We want to get the lake full, and then make sure that proper management practices are in place to keep it full."

Getting the lake full is easier said than done. Some people joked Tuesday that the group should be called the "1051 Coalition" because Lanier is currently 20 feet below its normal full pool of 1,071 feet above sea level.

In the grip of a three-year drought, the lake is expected to surpass its all-time record low this month. But advocates argue that government officials, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, could be doing more to keep water in the lake when rain does fall.

"The corps talks about balancing the three reservoirs (in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system)," said coalition secretary Wilton Rooks. "The problem is that Lake Lanier is totally different from the other two. The corps needs to recognize that it has the obligation to treat Lanier as more than just a bucket of water to send down to the Gulf of Mexico."

The group wants the corps to develop a more sensible water management plan for the basin. But it also wants Congress to empathize with Georgia’s plight in the tri-state "water wars" with Florida and Alabama.

"We want to bolster Georgia’s position in the public relations war," said Todd.

Sam Olens, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, complained that Florida has gained sympathy by falsely portraying its situation as a fight to save endangered species in the Apalachicola Bay.

"The problem is the politics in (Washington) D.C.," Olens said. "There should be a study of the basins in all three states, and the decisions should be based on science, not politics."

The 1071 Coalition doesn’t have the resources to fund an environmental study on that scale. So far, it has raised $100,000 in a projected three-year budget of $700,000.

Todd said the group plans to spend $225,000 on public relations, $60,000 on government relations support, $175,000 on technical experts, and $40,000 for legal support.

But the first priority will be a $200,000 study on the economic impact of Lake Lanier, to be conducted by Bruce Seaman, an economist at Georgia State University.

A 2001 study estimated an economic impact of about $5.5 billion, but Todd said that analysis was narrowly focused.

"It looked mainly at the impact of recreation," he said. "This one will be much broader and will encompass the entire region."

Todd said he hopes to have the study completed by midsummer.



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