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U.S. Supreme Court hears Florida-Georgia water dispute

ATLANTA — A lawyer representing the state of Florida asked the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to order Georgia to use less water irrigating crops in order to restore Florida’s devastated oyster industry.

But Georgia’s lawyer told the justices the costs of a court-ordered cap on water consumption by farmers in Southwest Georgia would far outweigh the minimal benefits it would provide the Sunshine State’s oyster harvests.

“A 50% cut in irrigating would cost Georgia hundreds of millions of dollars to benefit Florida’s oyster industry by 1%,” Craig Primis said during hourlong opening arguments.

The tri-state “water wars” between Florida, Georgia and Alabama over water allocation from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin have dragged on for nearly three decades. But Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia heard on Monday dates back only to 2013, a year after the collapse of that state’s oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay.

Florida is seeking to cap Georgia’s water consumption to save an oyster industry that otherwise would be “irretrievably lost,” Gregory Garre, Florida’s lawyer, told the justices.

Georgia has countered that such a cap would bring growth in metro Atlanta grinding to a halt and devastate the state’s Southwest Georgia Farm Belt.

Florida blames the collapse of its oyster industry on historic low flows of water through the ACF system at its border with Georgia, which increased levels of salinity in Apalachicola Bay to harmful levels for its once-thriving oyster industry.

“One of the most unique estuaries in the Northern Hemisphere … essentially became a marine environment because of the increased salinity,” Garre said.

Garre confirmed what has been clear at least since a special master heard the dispute in late 2019: Florida is no longer focusing on the amount of water used in metro Atlanta to supply the region’s growing population. Essentially, Florida has conceded that Atlanta-area municipal water utilities have made such strides in water conservation that a case can’t be made in that part of the river basin.

Garre acknowledged in answer to a question Monday from Justice Amy Coney Barrett that Florida instead is targeting the amount of water used for irrigation in Southwest Georgia. He suggested Georgia could fix the problem with steps that wouldn’t cost much, including halting illegal irrigation, eliminating over-watering, reducing farm-pond evaporation and doing a better job scheduling irrigation.

“Georgia’s unrestrained consumption is unreasonable,” Garre said. “Meaningful relief is available at little or no cost to Georgia.”

But Primis said the collapse of the Florida’s oyster industry was a “self-inflicted wound” caused by overharvesting. He pointed to data backing up overharvesting as the cause of the devastation.

“The (sand)bars that were heavily fished collapsed, and the ones that were not heavily fished … thrived,” he said.

While both lawyers were put on the spot with questions from the justices, as is usually the case before the Supreme Court, some justices appeared particularly skeptical of Florida’s arguments. Special Master Paul Kelly recommended dismissing the lawsuit after he heard from the two sides in 2019.

At one point, Justice Stephen Breyer supported Georgia’s argument that overfishing occurred.

“You did overharvest after the oil spill,” Breyer told Garre, referring to the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. “You said, ‘Get them now or never.’ ”

Breyer also expressed frustration that the legal dispute between the states has lasted so long. Monday’s oral arguments marked the second time the Supreme Court has heard the Florida v. Georgia case.

“Has anybody ever tried to work out that Florida would pay Georgia to solve the problem?” the justice asked.

A ruling by the high court is expected by the end of June.

Team GBI, sheriff raise over $22,000 in polar plunge fundraiser for Special Olympics at Lake Acworth

ACWORTH — In a typical year, Special Olympics Georgia raises about $110,000 during its annual “polar plunge” event at Acworth Beach, according to Events Manager Kaitlin Henderson.

This year? More than $180,000, she said. Of that number Team GBI, which included Floyd County Sheriff Dave Roberson and several others from Rome, raised over $22,000.

From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., more than 400 people took turns wading, running and, of course, plunging into Lake Acworth’s icy water to raise money for an organization that supports some 26,000 special-needs athletes across the state, paying to organize and staff events and equip teams. Or, as the event’s website put it, “Freezin’ for a reason.”

Mike Taylor, a Rome resident, is a lieutenant with the Acworth Police Department. He and his son Grant, who’s about to graduate from Armuchee High School, took the icy plunge together.

“We have been doing this for about five years now, ever since the Special Olympics Georgia brought the event to Lake Acworth,” Taylor said. “I have always taught Grant that we need to take every chance possible to do something bigger than ourselves and help others. This is a great way to help some very deserving kids and young adults. It’s fun raising money for the event and we have a great time when we get to run off in the lake and enjoy the day with others.

But was it cold?

“It was the most bone chilling experience of my life,” Rome-based GBI special agent Ghee Wilson said. “It was for a great cause and I was glad to do it....it took over two hours before the feeling returned to my feet.”

Henderson couldn’t say why the event was more successful this year than in years past, but said it would help the organization hit the ground running when it was safe enough for people to play sports together again.

To participate, teams or individuals had to contribute at least $50. Four teams or groups of individuals made the plunge every 20 minutes Saturday.

Among those that took the plunge at 11:30 a.m. were the Boy Scouts of America Troop 241 out of Canton, which took an unorthodox approach: led by two young flag bearers, they stoically marched into the lake until they were up to their chests in the 36-degree water. They paused, turned, and began their march back out while a troop leader barked orders.

They may have followed his directions too well.

“You can speed up a little bit, though,” he joked as they slowly made their way back to shore.

At the same time, members of the team “Up to Snow Good” wrapped themselves in towels and shivered on the sand, and members of the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office prepared for their own plunge a half hour later.

“I talked (Sheriff Craig Owens) into it,” said Maj. Steve Gaynor, the sheriff’s head of community engagement. “(So) I have to go with him,” he added, perhaps regretting the decision.

Rossana Romero and Candace Wright of the Brookhaven Police Department helped each other stretch before their plunge. Both said they had decided to participate to help further a good cause.

Law enforcement agencies are among the Special Olympics’ biggest boosters, Henderson said. Each state in the country has its own polar plunge organized with the help of a local law enforcement agency, and Special Olympics Georgia partnered with the Acworth Police Department for Saturday’s event. Members of the department and Emory’s police department were among the first to jump into the lake Saturday; their team name was “The Right to Remain Frozen.”

Among the participants — and beneficiaries — of Saturday’s plunge was athlete Matthew Wynne, of Alpharetta. Wynne plays soccer and basketball for the Special Ks and softball in the North Metro Miracle League, both based in north Fulton County. He has not played since the start of the pandemic.

“The games have just fully kaputted,” he said.

It was Wynne’s sixth year taking the plunge. A fan of cold showers, he said jumping into the lake didn’t bother him much.

“As an athlete, it’s great to see how much money we’ve raised as a whole polar plunge,” he sad. “It really warms my heart that all these people come out and go out of their way to help an organization like Special Olympics.”

Group seeking to uncover Rome's hidden Black history

A group of people with a thirst to discover their past have met with closed doors, as they say many don’t want to discuss the city’s Black experience.

“We have failed three generations of children,” Lavada Dillard said during the meeting Saturday at the Rome History Center. “We want to gain knowledge and open the vaults of 137 years of history that has been hidden.”

The MLK Legacy and Leadership Academy of Rome met this weekend in the first of many efforts seeking to uncover Black history in the Rome area.

RAHM Archivist Selena Tilly reminded the group that telling the whole story of history is all about research.

“Quit taking what is in our history books as the last word,” Tilly said.

Tilly took the group back to the early days of Rome, offering up history relative to Myrtle Hill and the steamboat era.

Dillard asked if there was evidence of slave trading in the Cotton Block, Tilly said, “it wasn’t for buying and selling (slaves) because it didn’t develop until the 1870’s.”

“We’re still coming through the back doors of history,” Dillard interjected during a historic presentation by Tilly.

Pastor Sidney Ford agreed.

“Certain people know that history but they won’t tell it,” Ford said.

“How are we going to connect with you if we don’t know us?” asked Dillard. “When you look at the hate of yesterday, that hate has risen again.”

Taking personal responsibility for digging into history to reveal family matters that may have been long buried by time is important, participant Sam Malone said.

Documentation is also key. Pastor Gordon Wells encouraged the group to document and make copies of any records they are able to uncover during the search to fill in the blanks of the past.

“History is the foundation of who we are,” Ford said. “Black people played a major role in everything that moved and operated in this country.”

Lily-Mae Champion, a student at Model Elementary School

Rome commission pays tribute to Black History Month

City commissioners paid homage to Black leaders in Rome during their meeting Monday night with proclamations of appreciation and a presentation about the Five Points business community.

Marilyn Jones Arrington recalled the leadership of her father R.M. Jones. His business at Atlanta Life Insurance played a role in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to advance the civil rights movement.

Viola Lyons Brown remembered the efforts of her father, Dr. Mack Lyons, the first Black pharmacist in Rome and the owner of Lyons Drug Store. The business opened in the 500 block of Broad Street, but relocated to Five Points area “which was the Mecca of Black businesses in Rome,” she said.

Stressing the significance of a thriving Black medical community, Esther Vaughn said the Samaritan Hospital was at the heart of that thriving business district.

As with business, there was also faith.

Rev. Suzie Twyman highlighted the role of the Holsey Temple CME Church which was established in 1907. The original church burned in 1935 but was rebuilt around five years later. The church, now known as Holsey Sinai CME, is currently located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The condemnation of land for an urban renewal project which took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was devastating to the Black enterprises in the area.

Selena Tilly, archivist for the Rome Area History Museum, told the group she wants to make sure the history of the Five Points community is never forgotten.

Proclamations to honor other notable Black figures in Rome’s recent history were also given. Among those honored were J.L Finley, long time city employee J.T. Searcy and the late Evon Billups.

A special proclamation was made by Bishop Norris K. Allen to honor Commissioner Bill Collins, the city’s first Black mayor and a leader in the promotion of Black History observances in Rome.

Rezoning and CARES Act funds

The commission approved a rezoning request from JFB Development for land on East Third Street and East Eighth Avenue. The land was rezoned for urban-mixed-use development to convert an old parking lot into 18 additional townhomes.

The commission also gave unanimous approval to an annexation request from Commissioner Wendy Davis for a lot at 22 Norwood Street in the Riverside community.

Commissioners approved an amendment to the Community Development Block Grant program, formally accepting a second CARES Act package in the amount of $255,497. Those funds will be used to create an emergency rental and utility payment program for low/moderate income residents of the city who have lost income directly related to COVID-19.