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Group seeks lake impact study
1071 Coalition wants to gauge Laniers economic effect
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View a slideshow of before and after photos of Lake Lanier to see how the landscape has changed.

Lake survey
Members of the 1071 Coalition say participation of businesses and residents in a Web-based survey is crucial to the results of their economic impact analysis. The survey is Web-based, and businesses and residents of the five-county lake area are encouraged to participate.
Click here to take the survey.

They’ve heard the anecdotal evidence, but they want the documents to prove it.

A local organization is spending nearly $200,000 on a study that would comprehensively analyze whether an empty lake has just as depressing an effect on the region’s pockets.

The 1071 Coalition has commissioned Bleakly Advisory Group, along with Georgia State University Economist Bruce Seaman and the Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan Corp. to conduct a comprehensive analysis of Lake Lanier’s economic impact on the region by the end of the year.

“There really hasn’t been anybody who’s looked at that question in a really comprehensive manner,” said Ken Bleakly, president of Bleakly Advisory Group.

The group will also try to determine what impact a lower lake level has on the region’s economy.

Alex Laidlaw, president of the 1071 Coalition and vice president of WestTrec Marinas, said that even in one of the worst economic climates in years, his businesses, Holiday Marina and Sunrise Cove, are doing much better this year, now that Lake Lanier’s water levels have returned, than they did in 2007 or 2008.

“So clearly, from my business model, lake levels have a lot to do with the economics of my business,” Laidlaw said. “We were up 10 percent over, at least 10 percent, over 2008 in net income. If the economy was good, Lord knows what would have happened.”

Throughout the month of October, the 1071 Coalition hopes to survey approximately 5,000 lake-related businesses and residents located in counties surrounding the lake. Researchers will cull those survey responses together with data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other studies to decide some of the lake’s direct economic impacts on the region, Bleakly said.

Researchers will also study the lake’s impact on local government budgets, and touch on the impacts of the Chattahoochee River on communities downstream of Buford Dam.

“We won’t have as much detail on those, but at least we’ll be able to say, ‘well if the economic impact of this area’s X, how does that relate to what we’re seeing occurring elsewhere along the Chattahoochee River, and what size of the economy and how many jobs relate to river use,’” Bleakly said.

Laidlaw said he hopes the complete study can be used in litigation between the state and Florida and Alabama over the lake’s resources to show the importance of Lake Lanier to Georgia.

“I think we’ll have something that’s in-hand, that’s real, that has a lot of voracity to it that’s done in a very professional way that you’re going to be able to throw darts at it and it will be able to stand up,” Laidlaw said.

Kit Dunlap, Vice President of the 1071 Coalition and President of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, agrees. Dunlap said the coalition plans to share the results of the complete study with state and federal legislators.

“I think that it’s to have every kind of ammunition you might have to try to work with government officials, Corps of Engineers and citizens to try to keep the level up to full pool,” Dunlap said.

Bleakly will give a preliminary report of the researchers findings at the 1071 Coalition’s Oct. 27 meeting. And like Laidlaw, Dunlap does not expect to be surprised by the results.

“I think we’ve already found that out, obviously,” Dunlap said. “... You can just read — everything you read points to that. There’s not a practical solution to replace Lake Lanier, in particular with the water consumption.”