Florida, Georgia issue subpoenas to groups in water legal fight

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



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 .)