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Fla. residents worry about impact of Glades Reservoir on oyster industry
Third public hearing on proposed Hall County held at river basin's southernmost point
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About the hearings

Senior political reporter Ashley Fielding wraps up coverage of three Glades Reservoir hearings with a story today about the event in Apalachicola, Fla. On Sunday, she'll examine what's next for the project.

EASTPOINT, Fla. —Here, the notion of taking more water out of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin is a sensitive topic.

"I have seen a grown man cry over the situation in the bay," said Lois Swoboda, a reporter for the Apalachicola and Carrabelle Times.

Swoboda came to the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve to cover an open house on a project that proposes to supply water to people and industries hundreds of miles away.

Hall County's plans to dam Flat Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River, drew some 15 people here Thursday.

All expressed concern about yet another draw from the river system responsible for the health of Apalachicola Bay, the source of their livelihoods.

Thursday's open house was the last of three the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held throughout the river basin this week, as it seeks to embark on a study of the impacts of Hall County's proposed reservoir.

County officials' plans to dam Flat Creek would create a future reservoir that would supply the county with some 80 million gallons of water each day.

They need the corps' permission to build the dam, and the corps, noting the past and current controversies surrounding water in the basin, is conducting an in-depth environmental impact study before deciding.

The hearings were an effort at finding different stakeholders' concerns. The corps says it will use the resulting comments to guide the direction of its study.

Along with her job as a reporter, Swoboda is a biologist.

"Our bay is already dying from lack of fresh water, Swoboda said, "and I don't care how Hall County poses it, this can't do anything but hurt us more."

Apalachicola, just a bridge away from Eastpoint, is nearly synonymous with oyster harvesting. Oysters' habitat, and one of the area's main industries, relies on fresh water coming from North Georgia to balance the salt water in the gulf. When the water doesn't come, the bay gets too salty and the industry suffers.

"You've got to understand. I mean, for a lot of people in this county, this is really the county's livelihood. What we have is the seafood industry and tourism," Swoboda said.

Glades, she said, would impact both.

Most everyone else who showed up to look at Hall County's plans in Eastpoint on Thursday had similar comments.

By the corps' count, about 15 people showed up, a number slightly greater than the turnout the day before in Auburn, Ala.

David McLain, who moved to Apalachicola in 1996, now works with the Apalachicola Riverkeeper organization. He said residents there are acutely aware of any effort "that appears to be an outtake of water" from the source of fresh water to the bay.

Bill Mahan, an extension agent with the University of Florida who works with fishermen in Apalachicola, agrees, noting everyone in Apalachicola pays attention to what's going on with the water that ends up in their backyard bay.

"(The water wars are) on everybody's minds here, because of the dramatic effects we see," said Mahan.

McLain said he's been watching the Glades project for the last three years.

Everyone at the end of the river's reach, he said, is "acutely aware of being the downstream end of a large basin." And the arguments made on Florida's behalf in lawsuits between it, Georgia and Alabama over the basin's water — that Florida needs a certain amount of water to come down the Chattahoochee to protect the spawning grounds of certain species of endangered mussels and fish — isn't the only argument to be made.

"The most endangered species down here is the two-legged variety: my oystermen," he said.

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