Apalachicola group fires back at Georgia subpoena in water lawsuit



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.)