Businesses along Haw River concerned over sewage spill

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ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. -- Businesses along the Haw River are concerned recent controversy surrounding raw sewage spills in the water may hurt their bottom lines.

Right before the start of paddling season in May, Philip Ruckart is normally busy answering questions about kayaks and fishing trips.

But lately, the owner of Kayak Fishing NC has been getting fewer questions about merchandise and more on the river where he books most of his trips.

"Is it safe to use," Ruckart said, recalling the type of concerns customers have been calling with.

About 50 percent of his outfitting business is on the Haw River which within the past few months has been called "dirty" by environmentalists.

"If the pollution continues, if it's not dealt with, there aren't going to be people that want to spend time floating down the river," Ruckart said.

This week the river became the subject of a potential lawsuit against the City of Burlington demanding a plan to prevent future spills after a 3.5 million gallon spill of raw sewage from the city's waste water plant leaked into the river in January.

The river was also listed as one of the top ten most endangered rivers in the country.

It's not exactly the kind of reputation outfitters like Gary Gerringer say is good for business.

"If you get people scared enough not to get in the water, it's going to of course have an impact on my business," Gerringer said who owns River Run Outfitters in Burlington.

He's says he's still booking paddling trips for the summer but after a list of concerns from customers.

"Is it safe to swim in the river,” Gerringer said, referring to the kinds of questions he's been asked. “Is it safe to paddle the river? Is it safe to be in the water?”

Burlington city officials say they do have sewage spills throughout the year and work hard cleaning them up right away.

But, that's a small comfort to business owners who says reputation is everything.

“It's not a good sign for us," Ruckart said.