ATLANTA — The governors of Alabama and Georgia quietly met this month to discuss a long-running dispute over water before the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case, records show.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 16 to meet with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, according to records The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained using Georgia's open records law. Deal has sought a similar meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who accepted the offer.
The round of diplomacy comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a challenge from Florida, which wants to restrict Georgia's water withdrawals from the Chattahoochee River. Residents and officials in Alabama and Florida have said for decades that Georgia uses too much water upstream, leaving far too little water for people, wildlife and industry downstream.
"The last round of lawsuits cost Georgia taxpayers millions, and the costs are already mounting in this round," said Gil Rogers, a water policy attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. "Getting them to hash it out face to face could be a promising sign. But it's too early to know for sure."
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson would not elaborate on any specifics about the trip to Alabama, which did not appear on Deal's public calendar. Bentley spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis called it a "productive meeting."
"Governor Bentley remains committed to protecting the rights of Alabama citizens while working to resolve the issues with Georgia in a way that is fair and equitable to all parties involved," she said.
Deal also wrote a letter to Florida's governor and offered to travel to Tallahassee for a meeting.
"I welcome a renewed discussion with you and your staff with an eye toward reaching agreement to fairly share these vital interstate waters," Scott wrote back. "Building on the foundation of our prior negotiations will hopefully allow us to reach agreement more expeditiously, and our respective concerns may be addressed sooner than later."
Scott aide John Tupps said a meeting between the two governors has not yet been scheduled.
Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com
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