From: News Service of Florida
Legal fees in Florida’s costly water war with Georgia have escalated to $41 million, with the Department of Environmental Protection asking for a $13 million transfer to cover some of the expenses. The request will be considered Tuesday by the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. The fees represent Florida’s cost in hiring lawyers to make its case before a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Florida filed a lawsuit in 2013, alleging Georgia diverts too much water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system and that the diversions have damaged Apalachicola Bay and Franklin County’s seafood industry. Ralph Lancaster, a Maine lawyer who is the special master, has given the two states a deadline next week to reach a settlement. If the states cannot agree, Lancaster will issue his own recommendation in the coming weeks. State environmental officials said they carried over $11.7 million in legal fees from last year, while facing $7.1 million in billings for July and August, as lawyers prepared for a trial that Lancaster held in the fall. Environmental officials estimated projected expenses from September through the end of this fiscal year will be $22.2 million, for a total of $41.1 million. Officials project the estimated legal fees will exceed the current budget by $17.1 million. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which is made up of House and Senate members, will consider a request to transfer $13 million from two Department of Environmental Protection funds to cover the expected fees, leaving a $4.1 million deficit. Gov. Rick Scott’s office supports the transfer.