Late Thursday afternoon, David Poythress e-mailed his supporters an account of the bipartisan meeting he and seven other candidates for governor had with Sonny Perdue to discuss a court ruling that threatens to cut most of metro Atlanta from the water of Lake Lanier.
The direct message of the meeting was that this crisis will impact the entire state and that our state’s leaders need to present a united front. The meeting had a serious and collaborative tone, and seven of the eight candidates who attended asked polite questions, generally seeking more extensive answers from the staff.
Secretary of State Karen Handel, it seems, kept her counsel to herself. Poythress continued:
The heart of the presentation was the discussion of Perdue’s “Four-Pronged Strategy:” the appeal of the federal court ruling, contingency planning, negotiations and congressional reauthorization.
The indirect message of this briefing was that Perdue knows this crisis won’t be solved on his watch. I must give him credit for his willingness to keep the next governor in the loop, and he promises to bring us all together again to discuss future developments.
You’ll note that Georgia Power CEO Michael Garrett, chosen by Perdue to bring an end to 19 years of water negotiations with both Alabama and Florida, is optimistic. With luck, he hopes to cut a deal by the end of this year, my AJC colleague Dan Chapman reports this morning.
But back to that Wednesday meeting of Perdue and the eight candidates who want to replace him. Wendy Davis, campaign manager for Poythress, attended the closed-door meeting and took notes.
During the session, Davis noted, former Gov. Roy Barnes asked how many new reservoirs were in the permitting process.
Sixteen, a Perdue staffer told him.
And how much money has been appropriated for construction? The answer: Millions had been appropriated, but that money was shifted when state finances hit a wall. Some financing through bonds remains in place.
This led to a discussion of who bears responsibility of construction of new reservoirs to supplement any loss from Lake Lanier.
According to Davis’ notes, Perdue said that “water is an enterprise function of local governments” and that he was “unwilling to take this on as a state responsibility.” By “enterprise,” he meant “money-making.”
Davis also wrote that Perdue said that, when it came to building reservoirs and other infrastructure, local governments often had access to more cash than the state government.
Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said he would quibble with some of the words that Davis puts in the governor’s mouth. But the gist of the exchange was correct, he acknowledged.
Historically, construction of reservoirs and distribution of water has been left up to local governments, who then charge the recipients. The construction of state-owned reservoirs would be a significant shift in policy.
“Essentially, what he said was, if y’all want to have the discussion or debate about whether the state should own reservoirs and decide which counties and cities are able to draw from that, then that’s a public policy debate to have,” Brantley said.
“In terms of actually owning the infrastructure and deciding [who gets the water], that has been the purview of the local governments,” Brantley said.
As for local governments having more access to more money, Brantley said the infrastructure and customer list of a city- or county-owned water system gives them a capacity to issue bonds that state government doesn’t have.
In other words, state-ownership of a reservoir — much like the U.S. Corps of Engineers owns Lake Lanier — would allow the state Capitol determine who gets to use that water, and where growth occurs. It would be an expansion of power that needs a good deal of airing.
While you ponder that, consider these items found while perusing this morning’s ajc.com:
For first time, Georgia officials can say how many public high school graduates go to college. Sonny Perdue, CEOs meet on banking crisis. Shirley Franklin: Atlanta is $6 million in the black. Stimulus-funded road projects to be put out to bid. Linder: Bills don’t address real health care issues. France to honor five Georgia D-Day veterans.
Your Luckovich fix. Troy Davis decision gives no justice to the MacPhail family, says Jim Wooten. Water management policy must be objective.
From elsewhere in Georgia:
ABC: Georgia’s only corn ethanol plant could be running out of gas. Albany Herald: Cheers, jeers for Sanford Bishop during town hall meeting. MDJ: Phil Gingrey says health care bill will pass in some form this year.
NYT: The rise of the super-rich hits a sobering wall. Politico: The summer of Astroturf WP: Faith in Obama drops as health care reform fears rise.
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