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Study: Lanier saw less visitors

BUFORD -- The preliminary results of an economic impact study of the region surrounding Lake Lanier revealed a significant decrease in visitation to the area from 2007 to 2008.

The drop in in-season visitors -- during a period when lake levels fell 17 feet below full pool -- comes as no surprise to the 1071 Coalition, the nonprofit that commissioned the study.

"We felt its impact with our declining businesses in 2008," said Alex Laidlaw, president of the organization, which is comprised of residents, civic groups, businesses and other entities whose mission is to maintain water levels in Lake Lanier.

The coalition's Board of Directors recently heard from representatives of the Bleakly Advisory Group who are studying the impact of low lake levels in recent years due to the latest drought, the longest and most severe throughout the 25 years measured. Other preliminary data released includes:

* Total visits to the area were down 13.1 percent in FY 2009 compared to FY 2000

* An estimate by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding a decline in boating visits is confirmed by a drop in concession income -- more than $400,000 -- earned by marinas from FY 2007 to FY 2008

"We are still learning and anxiously await more data coming from the study that will paint the picture of just what the visitor decline means in terms of not only the economy of our businesses around the lake, but the economy of the region as a whole," said Laidlaw, who is also vice president of Westrec Marinas.

The economic impact study is expected to be complete by early spring of this year.