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Water strategist sees hope in deal with Alabama
Georgia Lt. Gov, Casey Cagle stops Thursday morning to talk with Frank Norton Jr. at the Chattahoochee Country Club during the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Georgia Power President Mike Garrett, directing the state’s efforts to settle a water dispute with Alabama and Florida, said Thursday he was "guardingly optimistic that we can do a deal with Alabama."

"I don’t have an opinion about Florida because we haven’t started having any conversation," Garrett said during a luncheon sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce at the Chattahoochee Country Club in Gainesville.

As far as Alabama is concerned, "I’ve never seen both sides more willing to sit down and talk," said Garrett, also the Georgia Chamber chairman.

A debate has raged for decades between the three states over whether Lanier’s waters should be used for municipal purposes.

In a July 17 order, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson of Minnesota required Georgia to reach an agreement with Florida and Alabama or persuade Congress to authorize Lake Lanier as a water source in three years.

"There have been some almost-agreements (between Georgia and Alabama) since about 1997," Garrett said. "For ... various reasons, things have not come to pass."

The strategy will be to work first on a water agreement with Alabama concerning the Alabama, Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers basin, Garrett said.

"Then, ultimately the three states will come together on the ACF (Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint rivers basin), which affects Lake Lanier," Garrett said. "And I know you’re very concerned about that."

If the three states reach an agreement, "we would have to go to Congress and ask for reauthorization," Garrett said. "I think if you get all three states together, Congress would be a lot more receptive (to reauthorization)."

The state also intends to appeal the ruling through the courts.

And, Garrett said, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce is joining other groups statewide to put together a coalition looking at conservation measures and an eventual lobbying effort "once we get some kind of agreement between the three states."

In the meantime, "certainly it’s the time to be looking for new sources of water," he said. "If we signed an agreement this afternoon, I still think we should be working on new sources of water."

Most of Thursday’s program was devoted to a presentation by George Israel, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

He spoke on state legislative accomplishments and issues, and he touched sharply on some federal concerns, such as health care reform.

"I have read a synopsis of the 1,000-page bill. I don’t think that’s what (Congress) will probably end up with," Israel said.

"But the very idea that we would be going to single-payer socialized medicine — and I don’t know any other word for it than that — is scary."

He also said he is worried about the federal deficit, which could be as high as $20 trillion.

"If it’s that high, then it’s going to be really serious as far as the value of the dollar in our trade and our trade balances are concerned," Israel said.

The Georgia Chamber didn’t support the bank bailout or the federal economic stimulus package. "We will not support any (stimulus package) in the future," Israel said. "Less than 10 percent has even been spent."