Spill hasn’t stopped Kerr Lake visitors

Jun. 05, 2014 @ 07:44 PM

In the two weeks after Memorial Day, visitors to Kerr Lake have seemed undeterred by the coal ash spill that occurred about 80 miles upstream four months ago.

Bryce Fleming, superintendent of the Kerr Lake State Recreation Area, said attendance at the state park was 79,138 for April 2013 and 119,965 in May 2013, compared to this year’s numbers of 89,053 in April and 117,118 in May.

In an email, Fleming wrote the Satterwhite Point traffic counter was not working from May 15 to May 31 of this year.

“If that had been working, I estimate (conservatively) that our 2014 May attendance numbers would be about 7,500 higher,” he wrote.

That would put this May’s attendance closer to 124,618, which would exceed last year’s figure for the same time period.

Vance County Tourism Director Nancy Wilson said so far things seem positive for the lake.

“Visitation has been good,” she said. “Our parks have had high attendance.”

Wilson said this time of year is the most profitable season for the local economy, particularly for businesses surrounding the lake.

“We will start seeing family reunions in June, July and August,” she said, adding summer months are the most popular time for these gatherings.

Wilson said she didn’t expect to see a decline in tourism this summer because of the spill, which caused 30,000 to 39,000 tons of coal ash and as much as 27 million gallons of coal ash-laced basin water to enter the Dan River.

On Feb. 2, a storm water pipe collapsed beneath Duke Energy’s coal ash pond at the Dan River steam station in Eden, sending toxic ash into the river that eventually empties into the John H. Kerr Reservoir, which provides drinking water to residents of Vance, Warren, Granville and Franklin counties and draws millions of tourists to Vance County alone each year.

Even so, the spill hasn’t caused area business owners to lose business.

In fact, Catherine Hughes, co-owner of Satterwhite Point Marina, said the season has been strong so far.

“We had one of the busiest Memorial Day weekends that we can remember,” she said. “Our gas pumps sold solid for three days.”

She estimated a few hundred customers patronized her business over the four-day period from Friday to Monday.

“We were probably launching about 30 boats per day,” she said.

Fleming said he has fielded some questions about the presence of coal ash in Kerr Lake but not many.

He said he reassures visitors to the lake the Environmental Protection Agency and other local regulatory agencies have not found a detectable amount of coal ash or an amount that would cause concern for human health.

“If that were to change, we would obviously inform them of that,” he said. “We tell people the facts as soon as we know them.”

 

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.