Businesses on Lake Hartwell want tourism considered

CLEMSON, S.C. - Businesses on Lake Hartwell on the South Carolina-Georgia state line hope a new study will help convince the Army Corps of Engineers to consider economic impact as it manages water levels.

The Corps of Engineers and six counties along the lake - Hart, Franklin and Stephens counties in Georgia and Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties in South Carolina - are collectively paying $200,000 for a study by the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University, The Greenville News reported Monday.

South Carolina and Georgia also need to provide money for the study, which had been delayed by an earlier lack of federal funds.

David Freeman says his marina on the lake nearly went under when the water level on Lake Hartwell dropped to a 22-foot low last winter.

"Six counties count on it for tourism and recreation. Tourism and recreation are tied to the economic well being of the area," Freeman said.

The South Atlantic Division commander for the Corps of Engineers, Brig. Gen. Todd Semonite, says he can't consider economic impact of water levels.

"I don't have any authority to help balance the economy," said Brig. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander of the Corps' South Atlantic Division. "So as much as the economic interests of the area are a great concern to me as a taxpayer, I have no authority by Congress to balance that."

Congress requires the Corps to manage Lake Hartwell for water supply, water quality, navigation, recreation, hydroelectric power and flood control, Semonite said.

"As much as I'd like to listen to all of the concerns and be able to act on all the concerns, I only have the authority to act on certain of those concerns," he said.

Herb Burnham, president of the Lake Hartwell Association, said the economic value of the lake primarily comes from recreation, which is a stated purpose for the reservoir.

"In that sense it's covered because they do recognize recreation," Burnham said. "They do put up docks and ramps and campgrounds and all the other stuff that brings money in from recreation purposes."

A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-SC, whose district includes the lake, says he thinks economic impact should be a consideration in how the water levels are regulated.

Emily Tyner says Barrett is researching options including legislation to change the priorities.