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Arguments set for Monday in water wars suits

POSTED: May 7, 2009 12:13 a.m.

A U.S. District Court judge from Minnesota is scheduled to hear oral arguments Monday on whether water supply is an authorized use of Lake Lanier.

Judge Paul A. Magnuson will preside over the hearing, which will include arguments from the states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Southeastern Federal Power Customers.

Magnuson was appointed to hear the eight federal cases which have been consolidated in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Jacksonville.

Previously, he had said the issue of water supply will be the first decided.

Magnuson said the questions surrounding Georgia’s rights to the lake could render other issues in the case "obsolete" and allow the dispute to be resolved quickly.

Attorneys representing Alabama Power, which owns the William A. Farley Nuclear Plant at Columbia, Ala., have filed briefs contending that Georgia has no right to store water in Lanier for municipal purposes.

"The Corps’ de facto reallocation of storage at Lake Lanier for water supply is unlawful under the Water Supply Act of 1958 due to the major operational change effected through the reallocation and the serious effect of the reallocation on the congressionally authorized purpose of navigation on the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers," Alabama Power wrote in a brief filed in January.

The Georgia parties, a group that includes the state of Georgia, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the city of Atlanta, Fulton County, DeKalb County, and the city of Gainesville and the Lake Lanier Association, argue that the navigation purpose was never fully developed because of the decision not to build three storage reservoirs on the Flint River. In addition, the Georgia parties said Florida has refused to issue dredging permits to the corps to maintain a navigable channel on the Apalachicola River.

"Congress fully authorized Lake Lanier for water supply in the River and Harbor Act of 1946," wrote attorneys for the Georgia parties.

The brief contends Alabama Power lacks standing in the case.

"Despite its numerous assertions to the contrary, Alabama Power utterly fails to demonstrate that it has standing to litigate its claim that the Corps’ operations to support water supply and recreation at Lake Lanier have either resulted in a major operation change or had a serious impact on any other authorized project purpose," the brief states.

The Georgia parties and Alabama Power have already sparred over Georgia’s motions to exclude Alabama’s expert testimony in the case.

Magnuson, in his response, made it clear that he would make the decisions.

"No party’s position is advanced by the type of slash-and-burn litigation tactics evidenced by these multiple Motions. Perhaps more importantly, the interests of the respective clients in the zealous yet cost-effective prosecution of this action are harmed by the voluminous paperwork and at times vitriolic argument submitted to the Court with these Motions," Magnuson wrote.

"As the Court has made clear, it is perfectly capable of determining what evidence is admissible and what evidence is not admissible."

Russ Willard, a spokesman for Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, said Magnuson was planning to allow one hour for arguments from each of the parties at Monday’s hearing.

Earlier this year, an attorney for the corps issued an opinion claiming it had the legal right to supply water from Lanier.

Corps attorney Earl Stockdale’s opinion said that setting aside about 12 percent of the lake for drinking water would have only minor effects on the project’s goals to produce hydropower, control floods and float barges.

The 38,000-acre reservoir is at the center of a 19-year battle involving Georgia, Alabama and Florida over who gets a greater share of the water.



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