In the News
Panama City News Herald
Feb 17 2017
The community — with Rep. Neal Dunn and Sen. Bill Nelson leading the charge — is regrouping and looking for ways outside of court to make sure Apalachicola receives what they see as its fair share of water.
APALACHICOLA — Despite a disappointing finding for Florida in the “water wars” trial Tuesday, the state’s leaders say the fight to ensure more water makes it downstream in the Apalachicola River isn’t over.
Special Master Ralph Lancaster, a lawyer from Maine who has been overseeing Florida’s Supreme Court case against Georgia, issued a 137-page recommendation in favor of Georgia. In his decision — which is not final — he said Florida failed to prove capping Georgia’s water use would provide a “material benefit” to the state and criticized Florida’s decision not to include the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), which manages the dams in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, in the suit.
It’s bad news for oystermen, who have said that without more freshwater being released by Georgia, Apalachicola’s famous oyster beds will be in trouble.
“Our local seafood industry is in peril,” said Franklin County Commissioner Joseph “Smokey” Parrish. The decision is “not good for the people trying to make a living on the water, not good for the oysters and not good for the estuaries.”
As a result, the community is regrouping and looking for other ways — outside of court — to make sure Apalachicola receives what they see as its fair share of water.
Leading the way are U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who both are filing legislation in both congressional chambers.
“The key finding in the special master’s decision is that Florida has suffered harm from low water flows upriver, and that stopping implementation of the revised water manual is necessary to right this wrong,” Dunn, R-Panama City, said in a news release. “I am sending a letter to the Army Corps today, with support from several of my Florida colleagues in Congress, calling for it to halt implementation and meet with stakeholders immediately to discuss the Corps’ water control practices at the ACF River Basin.”
Dunn is planning to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution later this week that would “roll back” the USACE power if it passes a majority vote in both houses of Congress.
“This will block the Army Corps’ harmful rule and allow the states to come to an equitable agreement on the management of the ACF River Basin,” Dunn said.
Nelson, D-Fla., already has filed a bill in the Senate that would require the USACE to send more freshwater south.
“The oystermen whose livelihood depends on having enough freshwater in the bay are relying on us to get this fixed,” he said in a release.
Franklin County is the most shellfish-intensive area of Northwest Florida, with about 150 jobs in shellfish fishing seafood processing, according to data kept by the University of West Florida. That’s an employment density of 120 times the national average.
If something isn’t done to protect the waters that support that industry, Apalachicola Mayor Van W. Johnson said they aren’t done fighting, and Lancaster’s decision needs to be scrutinized.
“The bottom line is that the fresh water flow, particularly during times of drought, is gone or severely reduced and we in Apalachicola are running out of places to go to in order to get it restored — Corps of Engineers?? Georgia??” Johnson wrote in a news release. “The freshwater flow is dramatically reduced so it would seem logical that the burden should be on Georgia and the Corps to restore it.”