Georgia and Florida may be inching closer to settling a water sharing lawsuit, as court records show lawyers for both sides are talking about mediation.
"I will say that we agree that it could be helpful to us and to Georgia in particular if our discussions on a potential settlement could be officiated by a sharp and effective mediator," Florida lawyer Philip Perry is noted as saying in a Nov. 10 phone conference.
"Our concern is that it may take that type of help to actually make progress."
Georgia attorneys don't say much on the issue in the phone conference, but they mention it in a Nov. 6 "status report" on litigation between the states.
In that document, Georgia said it believes "the best way to advance the process is to engage a mediator acceptable to both sides who can create a framework for formal in-person discussions and periodic exchanges of information specifically directed to settlement."
Also, Georgia is "willing to discuss mediator selection with Florida and is also open to suggestions from the special master on how best to proceed."
Georgia was referring to suggestions from Ralph I. Lancaster, a lawyer from Portland, Maine, who was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to oversee the case between Georgia and Florida.
"I would definitely view this as a positive sign," Lake Lanier Association lawyer Clyde Morris said of the developments.
"After nearly a quarter-century of litigation among the states with little or nothing to show for it in terms of a final resolution, obviously positions are entrenched and there's a lot at stake.
"Sometimes, it takes a third party to help the litigants to move off (those positions). It's going to be tough work for whomever the mediator turns out to be in this case."
Like Morris, Lancaster said he was pleased to see mediation mentioned in the 2-year-old lawsuit, which is the latest in a string of legal battles over water shared by the two states and Alabama.
Florida has charged that Georgia's "overconsumption" of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier, is creating economic hardship, particularly on the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay.
Georgia has denied the allegations.
"I'm delighted to see both the word ‘settlement' and the word ‘mediator' in the reports and to know that you're moving towards that process," Lancaster said, "because, frankly, your persistent refusal to narrow the scope of this litigation is going to result in astonishing expenses to the states' taxpayers."
However, Lancaster balked at helping to pick a mediator.
"I'm happy to get involved ... but I think it's better if the two states can agree between themselves," he said.