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Florida, Georgia issue subpoenas to groups in water legal fight

Fri, Feb 6, 2015

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6-23-14 Paddle Georgia

River enthusiasts paddle the Chattahoochee River through Atlanta as part of Paddle Georgia, a project of the Georgia River Network. GRN was among the groups receiving subpoenas from Florida. Photo by Bruce Ritchie

By BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDA ENVIRONMENTS

Environmental groups in Georgia and a seafood workers group in Franklin County are among the organizations required to turn over information in a legal dispute over water between Florida and Georgia.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in court over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system since 1990. In 2013, Florida asked the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water among the states, claiming that Georgia’s water use was harming the Apalachicola River and oysters in Apalachicola Bay.

This week, Florida issued subpoenas to 13 utilities, cities, counties and conservation groups in Georgia including the Georgia River Network, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, the Flint River Partnership and the ACF Stakeholders.

In Florida, all six counties along the Apalachicola River received subpoenas from Georgia as did the cities of Carrabelle and Apalachicola in Franklin County, Florida Sea Grant at the University of Florida and the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association.

Asked what information Georgia is requesting his group, Shannon Hartsfield, president of the seafood workers association, replied, “Stuff that we don’t have.”

“They are just fishing for information,” Hartsfield said.

Copies of the subpoenas were requested from Florida and Georgia officials but only the Georgia subpoenas were received. A subpoena provided by Franklin County showed that Georgia was requesting all documents related to water use, pollution, tourism and the condition of oysters in Apalachicola Bay.

The ACF Stakeholders group, which includes representatives from the three states, was created in 2009 with a mission of improving communication and creating consensus.

Jim McClatchey, chairman of the ACF Stakeholders, said Friday his group will respond to the subpoena. But he said he could not talk about the matter until his group’s executive committee has discussed it on Monday.

In 2013, the group called on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to drop his legal action in the Supreme Court. The group also imposed confidentiality requirements on its members in response to the Florida lawsuit.

“We do not want to be brought into that legal process,” McClatchey said in 2013. “We want to be able to develop our plan without worrying about that.”

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper group, based in Atlanta, is a member of the ACF Stakeholders group. Laura Hartt, policy director for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said she isn’t sure whether her group will have to turn over information that is confidential under the ACF Stakeholders process.

“That does put us in an awkward position,” Hartt said. “That is not the court’s doing. That is the doing of the ACFS (stakeholders group). That group originally was about transparency, data-sharing and consensus-building. When we entered the litigation mode, things changed. That’s unfortunate.”

She and Chris Manganiello, policy director of the Georgia River Network, said the Florida subpoenas are aimed at gathering information about water use in Georgia — information that is available from state agencies and other public sources.

“We are being asked at some level to engage with the water wars that have been going on for 20 years,” Manganiello said. “Florida seems to think we may have information that is of value to the case. As I said, we would agree with many in the ACFS (Stakeholders) that ideally there would be a resolution outside of court.”

Ralph I. Lancaster, a court official overseeing the case, has encouraged Georgia and Florida officials to settle the case and avoid talking to the news media. This week, he denied a request by Floridaenvironments.com to monitor a Feb. 10 telephone status conference in the case.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be requested from bruceBritchie@gmailcom .)

Apalachicola group fires back at Georgia subpoena in water lawsuit

Sat, Feb 21, 2015

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Georgia says Florida's lawsuit over water should be dismissed because the federal government, which operates dams on the Chatthoochee River, isn't included as a party. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

Jim Woodruff Dam at the Florida-Georgia state line. Georgia says Florida’s lawsuit over water should be dismissed because the federal government, which operates dams on the Chatthoochee River, isn’t included as a party. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

By BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDA ENVIRONMENTS

Two Florida universities, two counties and more groups in Apalachicola have received subpoenas from Georgia in its water dispute with Florida before the U. S. Supreme Court, prompting more criticism of Florida’s lawsuit.

Florida in 2013 asked the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) system among Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Florida blamed Georgia’s water use for depriving Apalachicola of fresh water and causing a collapse of oyster populations, but Georgia says overfishing and Florida’s own actions are to blame.

Meanwhile, Georgia is asking the Supreme Court to dismiss the case because the federal government was not named by Florida as a party in the litigation and is declining to join in the case.

Florida State University and the University of Florida received subpoenas this week for research data and computer modeling related to Apalachicola Bay oysters. Late last week, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Dealers Association and the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce received subpoenas along with Bay and Washington counties.

Georgia wants Apalachicola Riverkeeper to turn over information on a wide array of issues including fisheries management, Apalachicola River water use and pollution, and records involving the Seafood Management and Resource Recovery Team in Apalachicola.

Apalachicola Riverkeeper also is a member of the ACF Stakeholders group which has been working on a sustainable water use plan for the region and has called on Florida to drop its lawsuit, called an “original action,” in the Supreme Court. ACF Stakeholders received a subpoena earlier this month from Florida.

Dan Tonsmeire

Dan Tonsmeire

“It is frustrating to me the lawyers are making most of them somewhere between $300 and $700 an hour, and we are now being drug into this at their behest after we tried so hard to work toward a resolution,” said Dan Tonsmeire of Apalachicola Riverkeeper. “And it’s going to cost us legal fees now to try to respond to these inquiries for information.”

And while lawyers on both sides are requiring information from the groups, they’ve been unwilling to say what their strategy or plans are for the basin, Tonsmeire said.

“Nobody knew this (Supreme Court action by Florida) was going to be filed outside of the small litigation team,” he said.

There was no response from Florida officials to a request for comment. Georgia officials also did not respond to the criticism of the lawsuit.

Georgia said in a motion this week the case should be dismissed because the federal government controls water flowing into Florida through Jim Woodruff dam on the state line but isn’t named as a party in the case.

“Thus, even if Florida were to prevail in its suit against Georgia, the Supreme Court could not guarantee Florida what it considers to be an adequate flow of water into the Apalachicola River unless the United States can be bound by the court’s decree,” Georgia wrote.

Also this week, Rep. Mark Pafford, the House Democratic leader from West Palm Beach, said a water bill being pushed through the House should be expanded to include Apalachicola Bay and other regions of the state.

When told that Apalachicola Bay involves an interstate water fight, Pafford said, “It could be. It doesn’t have to be.”

Earlier this month, Florida issued subpoenas to 13 utilities, cities, counties and conservation groups in Georgia.

In Florida, all six counties along the Apalachicola River received subpoenas from Georgia as did the cities of Carrabelle and Apalachicola in Franklin County, Florida Sea Grant at the University of Florida and the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy, forward or reproduce without permission, which can be received from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)

Graham irks environmentalists with vote for Keystone XL pipeline

Fri, Jan 9, 2015

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Gwen Graham paddles a tributary of the Apalachicola River during a campaign stop with her father, former U. S. Sen. Bob Graham. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

Gwen Graham paddles a tributary of the Apalachicola River during a campaign stop with her father, former U. S. Sen. Bob Graham. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS

After taking office this week, “The North Florida Way” for U. S. Rep. Gwen Graham on Friday meant joining with Republicans on Friday in support of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Graham, D-Tallahassee, unseated Republican Rep. Steve Southerland of Panama City in November. She said in her campaign she would bring the “North Florida Way” to Washington including an end to partisan bickering.

On Friday, her vote for the Keystone XL Pipeline Act championed by Republicans received cheers from the energy industry and complaints from environmentalists. Graham said the pipeline would lead to lower gas prices in the future.

“I’m supporting this pipeline with the expectation it will be built as one of the safest in the world,” Graham said in a statement. “Democrats and Republicans came together to pass this legislation, now we must continue to work together to protect our country’s natural resources.”

Graham joined Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, as the only other Democrat from Florida in support of the bill while eight Democrats voted against. All 17 Republican House members from Florida voted for the bill. The House voted 266-153 to pass the measure.

Democratic activist Barbara DeVane wrote on Facebook that Graham’s ceremonial swearing in later this month could become a “swearing at” event because of the vote.

Environmentalists oppose the pipeline, saying that burning the oil from Canada will contribute to climate change and threaten the environment in areas where the pipeline crosses.

The pipeline would carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Texas refineries along a proposed 1,179-mile route through plains states, according to U. S. News.

“So many energy and environmental advocates that I know in Leon County spent so much time and energy working to elect her (Graham), and she votes like Southerland would have,” Tallahassee environmentalist Brian Lee said on Facebook.

Graham’s vote won support from David Mica of the Florida Petroleum Council and its parent group, the American Petroleum Institute. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill.

“Congress is leading on Keystone XL in a bipartisan fashion proving Washington can get things done, despite obstacles from the executive branch,” API President and CEO Jack Gerard said. “We strongly urge all members to approve the KXL legislation despite the White House veto threat.”

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy, forward or republish without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com)

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