Staying afloat
Nearby marinas make changes to adapt for drought

HALL COUNTY - While North Georgia remains under extreme drought conditions, some Lake Lanier marinas are spending money to staunch the flow of lost revenue.

As the drought worsened last year, water ebbed from Aqualand Marina's five boat launch ramps like pulling the plug from a bathtub. That left its launch ramps unusable and forced roughly 1,700 boat owners to either leave their boats in or out of the water or use one of Lake Lanier's 76 public ramps, Manager Len Jernigan said.

This winter, Aqualand Marina in Flowery Branch extended one of its private boat launch ramps an additional 48 feet at a cost of $75,000, Jernigan said.

"We had to do it," Jernigan said. "Some of our customers were going to leave. We won't recoup that cost directly, but we will retain customers."

Even recent rains haven't done enough to bring the lake up to its normal level. The drought cost the marina $70,000 per month in 2007, he said.

"We thought of waiting it out (the drought), but how much do we spend chasing water?" Jernigan said.

Holiday Marina near Buford boasts one of the longest boat launch ramps on the lake, reaching a depth of 1,035 feet, said Vernita Loveridge, area vice president. That length wasn't enough to keep the marina from losing about $200,000 in revenue in 2007, she said. To combat more loss, the marina spent about $250,000 to extend eight docks and will begin dredging within a week, she said.

"We needed to keep our customers in the water and floating," Loveridge said. "We just got our dredging permits from the corps. It will give us more slips."

Howie Geib, owner of Waterfront Lanier Harbor near Buford, took advantage of the cold weather downtime to make major changes to the marina's operations.

"We were a launch and haul facility, now we are a wet slip marina," Geib said. "We replaced the gas dock and never missed a day."

Waterfront Lanier Harbor didn't suffer much under the drought, Geib said, although he's making preparations should another one occur.

"Our ramp was open all summer because it goes quite deep," he said. "Our new docks that are going in the water now are designed in sections so they can remain functional at low water. Three more docks are being planned."

Monday, Lake Lanier stood at 1,057.08 feet, nearly 14 feet below full pool. The lake level is almost six inches higher than it was a week ago.