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Lake advocacy group having trouble staying afloat
1071 Coalition needs more money to complete long-awaited economic study
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The drought produced the group. Higher water levels on Lake Lanier may be causing it to sink.

Interest in 1071 Coalition, founded in the midst of the two-year drought that hammered much of the Southeast, “has dwindled since the water levels have been up,” said Alex Laidlaw, the group’s chairman.

Even participation on the board of directors has faltered.

“And it’s unfortunate because I don’t think we’re out of the woods by any means.”

After being drought-free for more than a year, parts of North Georgia have returned to drought conditions over the past three months, state climatologist David Stooksbury said recently.

Hall and Jackson counties have received “near normal” precipitation, he added.

1071 Coalition formed in December 2008, holding a kick-off reception and membership drive at Lake Lanier Islands, drawing about 250 people.

At the time, then-president Grier Todd, CEO at Lake Lanier Islands, said the group expected to last about four years, or until Lanier returned to full pool and “proper management practices are in place to keep it full.”

Some people joked at that gathering that the group should be called the “1051 Coalition” because Lanier was 20 feet below its normal full pool of 1,071 feet above sea level.

Lanier returned to full pool on Oct. 14 and since has mostly hovered around that mark. However, the lake hasn’t been at 1,071 feet since June 22, with the summer marked by heat waves and dry spells.

Signs that 1071 Coalition was slipping began to show in February, when Laidlaw addressed a meeting of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s South Hall Business Coalition.

“We’ll stay in business, so to speak, but we’re not going to have the funding to accomplish any of the other goals we had set out to do,” he said in a meeting a Lake Lanier Islands’ Legacy Lodge and Conference Center.

Slipping donations, partially caused by the weakened economy, had taken their toll on the group’s budget.

The group began with a $700,000 budget, including $200,000 for a study determining Lake Lanier’s impact on the region.

“The study is going to get completed,” Laidlaw said last week. “We’re just not going to have enough money to pay the consultants at this point, so we still need to raise funds for the study. Frankly, because of the water levels, no one is paying attention to it.”

Atlanta-based Bleakly Advisory Group is conducting the study.

The coalition released some preliminary results in January, primarily that the number of May-September, or in-season, visitors to the Lake Lanier area dropped from 5 million in 2007 to 4.2 million in 2008.

Laidlaw said in February the group hoped the rest of the study could be released in the next few months.

A meeting had been scheduled this week to do just that, but that was later canceled.

“We’ve got some economic information coming from other sources ... and then we’re also getting some feedback from some high-level folks on what we’ve got there,” he said last week. “Until we get all that done, we’re just going to kind of sit on (the study).”

He expects the group will stay together beyond the study, “but I’m not sure how much else we’ll get accomplished until we have some other problem.”

Laidlaw believes the study’s results are meaningful.“Politically, I think that’s where it’s got the most value,” he said.

Georgia has been long engaged with Alabama and Florida in a conflict over Lake Lanier’s waters. A federal judge harpooned Georgia last year with a ruling that said the North Georgia reservoir couldn’t be used as tap for municipal drinking water.

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