Lake Eufaula six feet below normal

Monday, December 19th 2005, 1:41 pm
By: News On 6

EUFAULA, Okla. (AP) - The falling level of Lake Eufaula has left some boat docks landlocked and some local residents concerned about the future of their homes and businesses.

The lake is nearly six feet below normal because of drought, municipal water consumption and two electric plants that draw water from the Eastern Oklahoma lake.

Residents and business owners have collected more than 1,500 letters asking for federal recognition of the recreation value of the lake.

``My business is already half of what it was this time last year,'' said Rick Hughes, owner of Pete's Place _ a Stigler convenience store and landmark near Evergreen Marina.

``This business was here even before the lake was built ... but if that water level doesn't come up, we're out of business.''

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board are the legal stewards of the 41-year-old lake.

``The lake was created for hydroelectric power, navigation, water supply and flood control,'' said Aimee Jordan, a park ranger for the corps. ``Recreation wasn't the intended purpose of the lake ... We have to look out for the greater good of the lake.''

That doesn't sit well with Arley Hutchison, who along with parents Gene and Faye Cole, own and operate Evergreen Marina in Stigler.

The family oversees 100 boat docks, in addition to a marina store.

``People are scared,'' Hutchison said. ``Look, I know the drought has played a factor in the lake level. No one is debating that. But here's my question: Why can't they cut off these hydropower plants now?

``The last time we checked, we were about 4 to 5 feet from being cut off from the cove. Now, whenever people call to ask if they can move their boats, I just tell them, 'You can't. It's too late. The water is already too low.' What are we going to do this spring?''

George Smith, whose home overlooks Evergreen Cove, has a boat and a dock that are now resting on sand, 30 feet from shore.

``What can you do?'' Smith said. ``But I will say this: If something isn't done about that lake level, property values around here will be cut in half. Easily.''