Labor Day signals end of soggy summer, fewer lake incidents

A file photo of a boat dock on Lake Lanier at full pool.

A file photo of a boat dock on Lake Lanier at full pool.

BUFORD — For a holiday, activity around Lake Lanier was noticeably light.

Frank Boroughs, a park attendant at Lanier Park in Buford, called it “exceptionally slow.” By mid-afternoon on Monday, Boroughs said less than 20 of the park’s 62 boat slips were occupied on the day that for many is the last hurrah of summer.

“We’ve had more picnickers than boaters,” Boroughs said. “Usually on a holiday by 1:30, our boat ramp is full.”

Some of those picknickers were Rob Thao of Gainesville and his family, who brought a tent and a spread of hot dogs, ribs and traditional Asian food.

“It’s a time for family,” Thao said of the Labor Day holiday. “The kids are out of school, we come here and just enjoy our time.”

They’re enjoying it because Thao said there won’t be many more days like it this year.

“We’re going to try to sneak in a few more days, on the weekends, but this is definitely the last holiday we sneak out here,” he said.

Statewide on Labor Day weekend, the Department of Natural Resources reported one drowning, 18 boating under the influence incidents and two boating-related fatalities, spokesman Rick Lavender said.

On Lake Lanier, there were six BUIs and two incidents.

The statewide BUI total is up from the previous two years. Last year on Labor Day weekend there were six BUIs, and in 2011 there were nine.

New boating laws and a soggy summer are two reasons state DNR officials have attributed to the overall decline in incidents on Lake Lanier and other waterways around Georgia for much of the summer.

The National Weather Service rainfall scorecard for Atlanta recorded totals of 9.57 inches in June, 8.48 inches in July and 5.24 inches in August. It’s the wettest summer since 2005 when the area saw more than 14 inches of rain in July alone.

That weather has limited the activity and incidents, according to the DNR. Through Aug. 15, the DNR reported just 12 incidents on Lanier, compared with yearly totals of at least 34 each year since 2002.

“I think there actually have been less issues on many water bodies this year due to the rainy weather Georgia has experienced,” DNR spokeswoman Melissa Cummings said. “We also believe that there was a great deal of coverage on the new boating laws and perhaps that made people more aware of safety issues before they got to the water.”

Thao agreed.

“Because of the rain, we haven’t been on the water as much as we normally do,” he said. “But even when we come out, there are less boats, and less things that could happen. It’s definitely slower this summer than it was last summer and the summer before that.”

Despite the rain, Thao said his family tries to enjoy time together, whether it’s inside or outside.

“If they give us rain, we stay inside the house,” he said. “But if they give us sun, we come out and enjoy the sun.”

The boating laws, which went into effect in May, lowered the blood alcohol content level from .10 to .08, the same as it is on a road. The bill was named in honor of Jake and Griffin Prince, the Buford brothers killed in a June, 2012 boating accident on Lanier.

A portion of the statute was named in honor of 11-year-old Kile Glover, the stepson of entertainer Usher Raymond, who died last summer after being hit by a personal watercraft while riding on a tube on the lake. The law also requires people who buy a boat to take a free boating safety course and those who rent a boat to participate in a boating safety briefing.

The DNR said through Aug. 15 that there was just one drowning on Lanier this year, compared with five all of last year and 10 in 2011. Boating under the influence incidents are also down. Through the same period, there were 36, down from 60 last year. But Lanier still leads the state in BUIs. Lake Sinclair had the second-most at 14.