BY BRUCE RITCHIE
U. S. Rep. Steve Southerland is accusing Democratic challenger Gwen Graham of flip-flopping on the issue of the Apalachicola River but Graham denies there has been any shift in her stance.
A year ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott filed a lawsuit against Georgia asking the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system between the states and Alabama. Florida claims Georgia’s water use is harming oysters in Apalachicola bay and families that depend on the seafood industry for jobs.
During a campaign stop along the river in August, Graham said she would work with the Alabama and Georgia congressional delegations and there should be less finger-pointing among the states. She also said she would work closer with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages four reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River and partially controls water flowing to Florida.
But a statement issued by Graham last week said Florida was being “cheated” for water by Georgia. She criticized the U. S. Solicitor General for telling the Supreme Court in a filing earlier this month that the case isn’t ready for action while the Corps of Engineers is working to update its water control plan in 2015.
“With prospects of canceling the oyster season altogether this year, the Obama Administration should withdraw this request and allow the Supreme Court hearing to move forward without delay,” Graham said.
“Though I hope the lawsuit is successful, the people of Franklin County are running out of time,” she said.
Southerland, R-Panama City, slammed Graham on Monday for allegedly flip-flopping on the issue.
“She’s argued for months that Florida’s lawsuit was not ‘in the best interest’ of Apalachicola Bay and only flipped her position in the election’s closing weeks,” Southerland said in a statement. “We can’t trust someone in Congress who will argue both sides of an issue as important as this.”
“Georgia is working nonstop to steal our water,” Southerland said, “and I’m fighting tooth and nail to stop them.”
Graham told Floridaenvironments.com on Tuesday that there has been no flip-flop.
“I have been consistent,” she said. “The lawsuit was not the best approach.”
“I don’t think lawsuits in general are a way to resolve issues. Now that the lawsuit has been filed, of course, I hope it is successful. I don’t think the people of Franklin County have the time to wait on yet another lawsuit.”
She said she would focus on working with the Corps of Engineers to gain downstream users of the Apalachicola River legal rights to their water.
Last year, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called the Florida lawsuit a “frivilous waste of time and money” and said Florida had refused to respond to Georgia’s settlement proposal.
Both Florida and Georgia have refused to release proposal details or documents because of a 2010 court order requested by the states providing confidentiality for mediation. A Scott spokesman said recently that there are no talks among the states.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering closing Apalachicola Bay to oyster harvesting after severely restricting the amount that can be harvested. Last week, the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Dealers Association and the Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team, consisting of seafood dealers and workers, agreed to ask for a closure of the bay until the summer if assistance can be provided to seafood workers.
(Story and photos copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com).