Legal Newsline

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Environmental groups challenge judge's jurisdiction order in dispute over ACF Basin

By Elizabeth Alt | May 9, 2018


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – Several environmental groups have filed a motion to reconsider the U.S. District for the District of Columbia’s order to transfer to Georgia their lawsuit alleging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated environmental policies that affect water supplies in the Apalachicola Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.

“The exceptional ecological importance of the Apalachicola River and Bay is of national significance,” the April 11 motion for reconsideration states.

The National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation and Apalachicola Bay and River Keeper sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) the Corps issued that updated the master water control manual, which governs the operation of federal dams and reservoirs in the Apalachicola Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, also known as the ACF Basin.

Judge John D. Bates issued the order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on March 29 that granted the motion to transfer the lawsuit to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, noting that most of the events surrounding the case took place in the ACF Basin in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to reconsider that order or to reassign the case to the Northern District of Florida, “where the vast majority of the environmental harms are occurring,” the motion states.

The plaintiffs request a neutral forum and claim that the order to transfer to Georgia is prejudiced. They state their aim is to “enforce federal environmental law, particularly to prevent the collapse of an ecosystem in Florida of extraordinary ecological, economic and cultural value—the endangered Apalachicola River, Floodplain and Bay located in the Northern District of Florida,” and also “to set aside the Corps’ decision to grant Georgia’s request for additional water supply from the ACF Basin.”

The plaintiffs claim the Corps’ FEIS was not adequate and violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Water Resources Development Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. 

The state of Georgia and the Atlanta Regional Commission moved to transfer the case to the Northern Georgia District Court or the Southern Alabama District Court. The plaintiffs designated that their case is related to a case filed by Alabama against the U.S. Army Corps.

The D.C. court stated that the two related cases should be transferred to the same district as the case had “far stronger ties to the states that comprise the ACF Basin—Georgia, Alabama and Florida—than to the District of Columbia,” and stated in a footnote that “the court is unconvinced by plaintiffs’ various arguments that this is a national, as opposed to local, controversy with a significant nexus to this district.”

The motion claims they were “prejudiced by not receiving full and fair consideration of their position independent of Alabama” and claim the court relied more on Alabama’s arguments than the plaintiff’s when making the decision to transfer.

The motion states that if the court decides to stay with the decision to try the case in the 11th Circuit, the Northern Florida District Court is more appropriate. Alternatively, they requested to dismiss their case with leave to refile in the Northern District of Florida because it “would be appropriate and in the interest of justice.”

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys with Earthjustice.

U.S. District Court District of Columbia case number 1:17-00772

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Organizations in this Story

U.S. Army Corps of EngineersU.S. District Court for the District of ColumbiaNational Wildlife Federation