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Congressional delegation endorses move to declare disaster in Georgia

POSTED: October 28, 2007 5:07 a.m.

A day after Alabama’s governor sent a letter to President Bush blasting Georgia’s request for a federal disaster declaration for the drought, the state’s 15 members of Congress sent a letter Tuesday to the president endorsing Georgia’s request.

The tension between the chief executives of Alabama and Georgia could keep Bush from rushing into a decision on Georgia’s request.

The state’s other avenue of recourse in reducing the water releases from Lake Lanier is now in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Fla., and will be heard by a Minnesota federal judge.

The state filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on Friday seeking a reduction in the flow from the Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam on Lake Seminole, which is formed by the convergence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.

Beyond the Woodruff Dam is the Apalachicola River. The current interim operating plan requires a minimum flow of 5,000 cubic feet per second to comply with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for protection of the Gulf sturgeon and two species of mussels.

In addition, the flow is needed for a coal-fired power plant owned by Gulf Power.

Lynn Erickson, a company spokesperson, said Plant Scholtz, a 95 megawatt plant, is relatively small, but is used to help stabilize voltage on the Southern Co. grid. While Erickson could not say how many gallons of water the plant uses daily, she said it requires a 5,000 cfs flow to operate its cooling towers.

The plant generates enough electricity to serve about 15,000 households.

Further north on the Chattahoochee, Southern Co. operates Plant Farley, a nuclear plant that requires only a 2,000 cfs flow.

The motion in federal court in Florida is one of three Georgia cases relative to water. One is in U.S. District Court in Alabama and involves the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin. The third is now in a federal appeals court for the District of Columbia.

The case used as the vehicle for the state’s action last week is a consolidated suit that includes numerous parties from all three states, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Hearing the state’s motion will be Senior U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson of St. Paul, Minn., who was appointed to the federal bench in 1981 by President Reagan.

"Magnuson is known as a judge who has handled very tough, complex cases," said Marshall Tanick, a veteran attorney in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.

Among the cases heard by Magnuson was a long-running dispute over the ownership of the Mall of America, the nation’s largest retail center.

Tanick has tried numerous cases before Magnuson, including a case involving former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler. The case was brought by Ventura against what was then the World Wrestling Federation. Tanick represented Topps, the maker of trading cards, which was eventually dismissed from the suit.

"(Magnuson) has a good sense of humor, is lawyer-friendly and has a good judicial temperament," Tanick said. "He is known to bring a little levity into the courtroom, which is a good thing."

Magnuson was nominated for his post by former Minnesota U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, a moderate Republican.

Former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers was involved in the tri-state water battle as both the state’s legal counsel and as one of the state’s negotiators, along with former House Speaker Tom Murphy and U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn.

"We met in Newt Gingrich’s office and spent the entire day on a Saturday," said Bowers, now an attorney in private practice. "We left early on Sunday morning with the thought that maybe we had made some progress."

Bowers said disputes between states are not easily resolved.

"We got into a fight with South Carolina over the boundary at the mouth of the Savannah River and that went on interminably," he said. "This (the tri-state dispute) could go on for years ... or more."

He said that a water issue presents a considerable legal challenge.

"You’ve got in our federal system the interests of three states squabbling over how to divide a very precious resource and for a court to resolve that is very difficult."

Bowers said resolution may not need to come from the courts, but from Congress.

"Obviously, that’s a tough issue for a political body like the Congress to resolve because somebody’s going to lose," he said.

Bowers said courts tend to act quickly on injunctive relief, like Georgia is seeking, but adds that this case is different because of the number of parties involved.



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