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Lake owners, Florida doubt corps’ Lanier plan

POSTED: April 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.
The proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an interim operating agreement on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system was met with lukewarm enthusiasm by the president of the Lake Lanier Association.

"At least the corps is listening," said Jackie Joseph, who heads the advocacy group. "Of course this is going to have to go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and I assume we may hit a roadblock."

At issue once again are protected species in Apalachicola Bay. The corps is proposing discharge levels of less than 5,000 cubic feet per second from the Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam at the beginning of the Apalachicola River.

"The current exceptional drought operation plan expires on June 1," said E. Patrick Robbins, public affairs officer for the corps’ Mobile district. "Based upon review of the current species information, basin stakeholder input, lessons learned from 2006-07, and continuing discussions between the corps and USFWS, the corps has requested reinitiation of formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act on proposed modifications to the IOP at Jim Woodruff Dam. Consultation discussions between the corps and FWS over the coming weeks may identify additional modifications that provide for further avoidance and minimization measures."

The agency will have until June 1 to review the modified plan and its impacts on threatened and endangered species and then issue a biological opinion.

The announcement was met with disdain from a Florida congressman who represents the Apalachicola region.

"The corps’ latest proposal continues to force the state of Florida to bear the brunt of Georgia’s lack of long-term water planning," said U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla. "This IOP and expedited review by FWS perpetuates the same hurried process that is becoming commonplace for the corps in dealing with our water sharing challenges."

Like many in the panhandle, Boyd places the blame on Atlanta.

"We cannot continue to give Atlanta Band-Aids if it continues to trip over the same stump," he said. "Under this IOP, the state of Georgia has no incentive to plan for their water needs, with our state sacrificing our fair share of water."

The three states have fought over water in the river system for 18 years. The water war has been in and out of court, with no long-term resolution.

The White House, through Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, intervened last fall. However, those talks broke down in March and the case appears headed back to court.

A senior federal judge from Minnesota, Paul A. Magnuson of St. Paul, has been appointed to hear most of the seven cases now pending between the three states.

"I believe its going to finally come down to Judge Magnuson," Joseph said. "Our attorney is encouraged by Magnuson’s experience in presiding over these kind of cases before."


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