After weeks of firing harsh words across the Chattahoochee, the governors of Georgia and Alabama will sit down today in Washington, along with their counterpart from Florida and the secretary of the interior.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has a busy agenda in Washington today, beginning with a 9 a.m. meeting in the office of U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
Shelby has invited Perdue, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and the U.S. senators from Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
Two hours later, Perdue and Riley will be joined by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for a meeting at the Interior Department with Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. The closed-door session, which will continue through lunch, will also include Jim Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental
Quality, and Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, commander of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Shelby and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., left an icy welcome mat for Perdue on Wednesday in a tersely worded letter to President Bush voicing their staunch opposition to Perdue’s request for White House intervention on water releases from Buford Dam.Shelby and Sessions wrote that such a
step "would be extreme and have a devastating effect on the residents of Alabama."
The senators dismissed the notion that the water crisis is "people versus mussels and sturgeons."
They went on to say that Georgia’s attitude is one-sided.
"Clearly, Georgia wants to reallocate the water because it has not done a good job in anticipating and responding to long-festering water supply problems in the state. As a result, it wants to limit Alabama’s and Florida’s allocation of water to compensate," they wrote.
They question whether Bush would have the legal authority to waive any requirements of the Endangered Species Act and said if such authority did exist, any waiver would "have repercussions far beyond Georgia’s single-minded intentions."
The letter from Shelby and Sessions is just the latest in a war of words between officials from Alabama and Georgia.
Riley, a second-term Republican like Perdue, said that Georgia’s request for an emergency declaration amounts to the "unilateral transfer" of control over the water in Lake Lanier from the federal government to Georgia.
Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Perdue said the two chief executives remain on good terms despite the talk that has escalated in the past two weeks. He said the two men were cordial when they were last together two weeks ago at a trade association meeting in Japan.
He said Perdue’s frustration with Alabama is due, in part, to that state’s last-minute decision to back out of an agreement that would have settled the 17-year schism over water.
Brantley quoted Perdue as saying, "The church doors had been thrown open and we were ready to walk down the aisle." Then, he said Alabama backed away from the compromise that had been reached during meetings in the spring.
He said that Perdue would now be pushing for immediate action.
"We’re going in asking for a decision," Brantley said. "We’re not going up there to continue to delay and discuss and come back later and later. We need decisions and we’re asking for some action on our requests."
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., is among those scheduled to be at the first meeting.
"We have reached a critical point in this process and I hope (today’s) meeting will result in a way forward through what we all know is a contentious issue among several stakeholders," Chambliss said Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of Chestnut Mountian, who was at a meeting last week between Perdue, Kempthorne and Connaughton in Atlanta, was also hopeful of progress.
"I am hopeful that there will be a reasonable outcome to (today’s) meetings in Washington," Cagle said Wednesday. "I am certain Gov. Perdue will continue to make a strong case for the state of Georgia and will reach out in good faith to Alabama and Florida. It is encouraging that the scientific data is on our side."