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Apalachicola sues to get more water from Lake Lanier

Suit also seeks to void Gainesville’s water contract

POSTED: January 29, 2008 5:03 a.m.

The city of Apalachicola, Fla., has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The 97-page suit asks the court to declare a November interim operating plan for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system unlawful. The plan reduced the flow into the Apalachicola River to 4,250 cubic feet per second. Prior to the plan, the flow had been 5,000 cubic feet per second.

The reduction in flow followed a meeting of the corps, the governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in November.

The plan resulted in a reduction of the flow at the Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam at the border of Georgia and Florida by 750 cubic feet per second.

The plan was reviewed and approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because the Apalachicola River, which begins at the Woodruff Dam, is the home to species of mussels and sturgeon protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The review, which normally takes more than four months, was ready in two weeks.

The suit also asks the court to set aside contracts between the corps and the cities of Gainesville and Cumming, Gwinnett County and the Atlanta Regional Commission for water withdrawal.

The suit cites the adverse impact on the oyster, shrimping and fishing industries, which according to the court filing, accounts for half the income in Franklin County, where Apalachicola is located.

"These are the most severely impacted people," said J. Patrick Floyd, city attorney for Apalachicola. "People on the Apalachicola Bay have a real interest, and they’ve been severely damaged by the fresh water flow reduction down the Apalachicola River."

The Chattahoochee, which begins in North Georgia, converges with the Flint River at Lake Seminole to form the Apalachicola River.

The city of Apalachicola, according to the suit, holds the position that management of the river system should "logically start with the determination of the largest and first user of the this fresh water flow (Apalachicola Bay) and then move back up to the artery that supplies this flow, to determine the amount of this fresh water above that minimal flow may be used upstream."

The suit contends that the bay has been catastrophically damaged and four of the largest oyster bars in the bay are now dead, as of December. Approximately 90 percent of the oysters harvested in Florida come from the bay.

Apalachicola becomes the first Florida city to file suit against the corps over management of the river system. But Floyd acknowledges that his city is not alone.

"There is some unrest of everybody along the river as to how it has been managed," he said. "There is a movement toward getting everybody together again and addressing the problem."

He said the perspective of Apalachicola Bay has not been addressed.

"For this bay to exist, it has to have a certain amount of fresh water flow all the time. When you cut it down to a certain point, it’s like cutting the blood flow to an organism. It just stops."

The suit names the corps, along with Army Secretary Pete Geren, Assistant Secretary John Paul Woodley and corps commander Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp.

Other defendants include Brig. Gen. Joseph Schrodel, commander of the South Atlantic Division and Col. Byron Jorns, commander of the corps Mobile district.

Corps spokesman Patrick Robbins in Mobile, Ala., said he could not comment on litigation.



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