Large crowd gathers for US Senate field hearing in Apalachicola on what Congress should do about the oyster collapse in Apalachicola and how Georgia needs to negotiate the water flow better to keep Apalachicola Bay healthier.
Emily Menashes, acting director of NOAA's Office of Sustainable Fisheries, speaks Tuesday at the senate field hearing. Col. Jon Chytka, commander of the Mobile District for the US Army Corp of Engineers, listens on her right.
“This lawsuit will be targeted toward one thing – fighting for the future of Apalachicola. This is a bold, historic legal action for our state. But this is our only way forward after 20 years of failed negotiations with Georgia. We must fight for the people of this region. The economic future of Apalachicola Bay and Northwest Florida is at stake,” he said in a statement.
The suit will be filed in the U.S. Supreme Court and will seek to limit the amount of Apalachicola headwaters Georgia can use.
A five-minute audio interview with State Sen. Bill Montford (D-District 6) can be heard below. He discusses his role in helping to convene the hearing, his hopes for the federal government to take a stronger interest, and the steps for the region’s oyster industry moving forward.
Here is a 35-minute video montage of the events inside and outside the hearing.
Original story: There was much emotion Tuesday at the congressional field hearing scheduled to examine the lack of water flow into the Apalachicola Bay.
Due to decreasing levels of water flow into the bay from the Apalachicola watershed, the town’s once-thriving oyster industry has collapsed. The town of Apalachicola, known for its oysters, has reported that this season has found an insignificant amount of the mussels to be harvested from the bay.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection calls the Apalachicola one of the most productive bays in the nation, providing approximately 90 percent of the oysters consumed in Florida. In addition to oysters, the bay supports extensive shrimping, crabbing and commercial fishing. Only 20 percent of the river lies in Florida, according to FDEP. The Apalachicola River headwaters, which actually begin in Georgia’s Chattahoochee River, becomes the Apalachicola where it crosses the Florida-Georgia line.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio scheduled the field hearing at the Franklin County Courthouse in Apalachicola to hear evidence concerning the oyster collapse. Speakers blamed the collapse on last year’s drought and poor water conservation practices in Georgia along the Chattahoochee river.
Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio headed the field hearing because Congress has the authority to direct the US Corps of Engineers to provide the freshwater flows necessary to save the Appalacicola Bay.
Described as one of the worst diseases to ever hit Florida orange groves, citrus greening is costing the state’s general fund $5.75 million. If the disease is not curbed it could be detrimental to Florida’s agriculture and economy.
Fifty-six people from Florida, Georgia and Alabama unanimously approved of a new sustainable water management plan. They issued their recommendations even as Florida sues Georgia, with Florida’s government arguing that too much water is being siphoned off upstream.
The Florida Legislature has proposed spending money earmarked for conservation in other places. The legislature recommended spending between $8 to $10 million of the $750 million conservation funds on land buys.