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Sep. 23, 2018
10:17 am


Florida repeats objections to Special Master’s report

By Jane Harrison
As expected, Florida again urged the Supreme Court to reject Special Master Ralph Lancaster’s recommendations in a federal lawsuit against Georgia over water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. The court appointee in February recommended that justices dismiss the case due in part to Florida not involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the suit.
The Corps operates five dams on the rivers that flow from the North Georgia mountains to the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola Bay. Lake Lanier is the largest of those reservoirs.
In its Oct. 2013 lawsuit, Florida alleges that Georgia hoards water on the rivers and causes environmental and economic harm to the oyster-based economy of Apalachicola, which relies on fresh water flow to nourish oyster bed. The Sunshine State seeks to limit Georgia’s water consumption and get reparations for collapse of oyster fisheries during the drought of 2012. The court appointed Lancaster to oversee preliminary proceedings in Oct. 2014. Lancaster told Florida attorneys they would need to prove that capping Georgia’s water use would relieve water woes downstream.
His report concludes Florida was remiss in not including the Corps in the lawsuit and that cutting Georgia’s water use would not help Florida because the Corps ultimately controls the release of water through its dams. He recommended justices deny Florida’s requests and dismiss the suit. The court usually follows through on its appointees’ recommendations, but occasionally makes exceptions.
Florida’s Aug. 30 response is the latest round of exceptions and rebuttals in the legal action that has cost the states more than $40 million each. Georgia officials rejoiced about Lancaster’s report, which followed another Georgia water war victory when the Corps’ granted Georgia all the water it requested in the Corps operation manual for dams on the rivers.
Part of Florida’s beef with the Special Master’s report centers on a Corps’ statement in the water control manual that it could consider changes in operations pending a Supreme Court decision. Florida concludes that the court should return the case to the Special Master for further proceedings.

It is unclear when justices will consider the case. It does not appear on its session calendar for this month. However, the October 2017 term extends well into 2018.

Posted online 9/29/17
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