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Perdue says water wars could end before he leaves office

POSTED: November 9, 2007 5:04 a.m.

Gov. Sonny Perdue said Sunday that he would be pleased to have the legacy of ending the state’s 18-year water feud with Alabama and Florida.

Perdue’s comments came in an interview with The Times during his visit Sunday to Blackshear Place Baptist Church. The governor was the special guest as the church celebrated the completion of a major expansion.

Three days earlier, Perdue was in Washington for the first round of face-to-face negotiations with the governors of Alabama and Florida.

In the days prior to the Washington meeting, the two other chief executives had been critical of Georgia and its efforts to retain water in drought-ravaged Lake Lanier.

Perdue said U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, a former Idaho governor, set the tone for a more civil atmosphere. He said Kempthorne came from a water scarce region and talked of how states reached contracts over water.

Perdue said he began working on resolving the tri-state disagreement before he took office in 2003.

"I called Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. (Bob) Riley and said why don’t we come together," Perdue said. "The courts aren’t the right way to do this. We’ve made efforts and come very close in both watersheds. I’ve been disappointed that we haven’t consummated the agreements we had in spirit."

Perdue is first hopeful of a favorable report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by mid-November.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to make sure we are being environmentally sensitive to wildlife in our waterways," he said. "They are expediting this biological opinion in record time."

He said he is optimistic the service will agree with the recommendation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce flows from Lanier by approximately 16 percent.

"That gives relief to us and is the right thing to do," he said.

Perdue said that the right atmosphere now exists to bring a resolution to the dispute.

"We’ve got our federal partners in this process of Corps of Engineers dams engaged in a very productive fashion with Fish and Wildlife and the states like they’ve never been before," he said. "Frankly, we’ve talked at one another in times before. We’ve never been in a room with the secretary of the interior and the chief of the Corps of Engineers and really talked about solutions."

The three governors are scheduled to meet again Dec. 12 in Tallahassee, Fla.

Perdue, who still has three years left on his second term, said he would like to see the matter resolved in his administration.

"It’s been going on for 18 years, and I would love to solve it on my watch," he said. "People elect leaders to solve problems, and that’s the approach I’ve taken since the very beginning."

The governor said he would like to see the Chattahoochee River become a connector for the states, rather than a divider.



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