August 8, 2016 – Politico
by Bruce Ritchie
A 12-minute video — paid for by taxpayers — describing how water use affects the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers is the latest victim of secrecy in a battle over water between Florida and Georgia.
Florida in 2013 filed a lawsuit in the U. S. Supreme Court accusing Georgia of increasing water use that has harmed the Apalachicola River and oysters in the estuary. The states now are in confidential mediation.
The states have been operating under a veil of secrecy since 2010 when they requested a confidentiality order from a federal judge. That was issued in a case involving the three states and the Corps of Engineers management of the federal reservoir system on the Chattahoochee River.
That case has been on the back-burner since 2013, while the Corps has worked on a court-ordered update expected later this year of its reservoir operations manual. Also in 2013, Gov. Rick Scott announced the filing of the Supreme Court lawsuit, called an original action, to force Georgia to limit its water use.
In 2015, Ralph Lancaster, a Maine lawyer appointed to manage the case for the Supreme Court, called the media “relentless and ruthless,” and urged the states not to comment. He also asked the states to file a request for an order to provide for confidential mediation, which they complied with and he granted.
In 2014, the Northwest Florida Water Management District approved development of a three-dimensional hydrodynamic model of Apalachicola Bay, but then the state agency denied a public records request in 2015 for information about the contract, citing the pending Supreme Court case.
Also in 2015, the Department of Environmental Protection said providing public records related to Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay oysters would cost a reporter nearly $20,000 to pay for a legal review of each email.
…On Monday, a DEP spokeswoman said emails related to the video, called “Apalachicola River & Bay: A Connected Ecosystem,” also would have to be reviewed by department lawyers.
Tonsmeire, of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper group, said the secrecy involving the case is hampering efforts to raise awareness about the threats facing Apalachicola Bay. He said his group had requested a study of how physical alterations to the river were affecting fishery habitat but state officials limited the scope of the study because of concerns about the legal case.
The American Rivers environmental group earlier this year named the river system its top most “endangered” river nationwide as part of its annual ranking based on the group’s desire to highlight key decisions and threats to waterways.
“We don’t know what kind of negotiations they got going on among the states or behind closed doors with the governor,” he said. “Nobody knows anything.Of course we’re worried.” [READ MORE]