Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fatalities Up, Tickets Down; Observers Say Budget Cuts Will Mean Fewer Rangers on the Water

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fatalities Up, Tickets Down; Observers Say Budget Cuts Will Mean Fewer Rangers on the Water

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA As Georgians hit the state's lakes during this holiday weekend to start the summer, the dangers on the water are increasing.

Fatalities by boaters or their passengers were up 23 percent in 2010 compared to the previous year, and drowning by people not in boats was up 28 percent, according to figures from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources this week.

The rate of deaths while boating has been climbing an average of 4 percent yearly since 2000 while deaths by people not boating - such as those who fall in the water from a bank or dock - has been declining an average 1 percent annually.

At the same time, citations for boating under the influence, or BUI, and incidents are down from the past year. What the department calls "incidents" fell 15 percent, and BUIs dropped 21 percent following an 18 percent decline the year before.

Some observers speculate that deep budget cuts at the department mean rangers are making fewer patrols.

"They are only on the water during the holiday traffic," said Travis Hayes, owner of Hayes Marine in Appling, a boat dealer on Thurmond Lake. "I think their funding is inadequate at best. That's one reason we're seeing fewer BUIs."

Hayes said rangers of have told him they have limited funds for fuel, so they have to conserve.

The DNR downplays that.

"Officers continue to be a present factor on public water bodies just as before, regardless of budget cuts," said DNR spokeswoman Melissa Cummings.

While the BUIs and citations for accidents may depend on ranger patrols spotting them, the rate of deaths have remained steady since 2005 when measured in terms of boat ownership.

Boat registrations have risen much slower than the state's overall population, increasing just an average of 1 percent yearly since 2000, according to DNR figures.

FEWER BUI TICKETS HANDED OUT

The economy is hitting boaters as hard as it's hitting rangers, meaning fewer boaters are on the water to get into accidents or to get caught drinking too much. …

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