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Judge Sides With Georgia Over Florida in Water-Use Dispute

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Supreme Court to review the long-running dispute over management to Flint and Chattahoochee rivers.

Supreme Court to review the long-running dispute over management to Flint and Chattahoochee rivers

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Georgia claims major legal victory in ongoing ‘water wars’ with Florida

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Georgia won a major court victory Thursday in its ongoing legal battle with Florida over water rights as a federal judge studying the case recommended the U.S. Supreme Court dismiss the case.

The opinion from special master Paul Kelly Jr. is a major milestone, with billions of dollars per year at stake for the economies of Georgia and Florida. In arguments last month, Florida attorneys argued south Georgia farmers drew so much water for irrigation that it destroyed the oyster farming industry in Apalachicola Bay. 

“The evidence has shown that Georgia’s water use is reasonable,” Kelly, a New Mexico-based federal appeals court judge, wrote in his opinion. “And the evidence has not shown that the benefits of apportionment would substantially outweigh the potential harms.”

Kelly is the second special master to rule in Georgia’s favor. The U.S. Supreme Court could accept Kelly’s recommendation, reject it, or appoint another special master to rehear the case. The justices previously overruled the 2017 opinion of the case’s last special master, the late Maine attorney Ralph Lancaster. It then appointed Kelly to rehear the arguments.

The “water wars” over rights to the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola rivers dates back to 1990. Florida officials accuse Georgia of seizing too much water before it reaches the state line, damaging the economy and wildlife. Georgia officials argue the state’s $14 billion agriculture industry depends on its current water withdrawal level and should not be forced to undergo expensive changes.

In Thursday’s opinion, Kelly relied on data provided by Georgia water experts that made the case the state draws a fair share of water since the waterways serve much more land and people in Georgia than in Florida. Kelly found Florida’s evidence unconvincing.

Kelly wrote that the blame for the troubles of Florida’s oyster industry’s lies with poor management practices and drought. Those drought conditions were likely worsened not by Georgia, Kelly said, but by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ strict control of the water that flows through dams within the river system. 

The special master also rejected as either too far fetched or too expensive 10 water-conservation measures that Florida proposed for the court to force Georgia to adopt. Georgia also is already making good progress in water conservation both in metro Atlanta metro area and on farm land.

“If anything, it appears that the potential harms to Georgia would substantially outweigh the benefits to Florida,” Kelly said of Florida’s request for a cap and conservation measures.

Kelly’s opinion drew quick praise from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who called it a “recognition of Georgia’s strong, evidence-based case in this litigation.”

“We will continue to be good stewards of water resources in every corner of our state, and we hope that this issue will reach a final conclusion soon,” Kemp said in a statement Thursday.

Meanwhile, Florida officials are “extremely disappointed” about the opinion and are reviewing their legal options, said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein.

“The water this river provides is essential for the Apalachicola Bay, and we will remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting it,” Valenstein said.

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Peachtree Creek Greenway path now open for walking, running, biking

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The Peachtree Creek Greenway is officially open — after years of discussion, preparation and construction.

Brookhaven city officials cut the ribbon Thursday on the first mile of the multi-use path that snakes between trees along the North Fork Peachtree Creek. Supporters hope it will eventually extend for 12 miles along the I-85 corridor, stretching from I-285 to the Atlanta Beltline.

“One down, 11 more miles to go, ” said Betsy Eggers, the founder of the Peachtree Creek Greenway nonprofit.

About 200 residents and officials attended Thursday’s event. The first leg stretches from North Druid Hills Road to Briarwood Road, with one trailhead near Corporate Square. The 14-foot-wide paved path is similar to the Beltline, but is inclined at times as it traverses along and over the creek.

“We call it a miracle mile,” Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said. “People thought it would be a miracle to get this thing done.”

Informative signs line the newly developed Peachtree Creek Greenway.

Photo: ALYSSA <a href="mailto:POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM">POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM</a>

The ribbon-cutting fell on the exact one-year anniversary of the groundbreaking for the construction. Attendees wore green Peachtree Creek Greenway shirts and ate a cake that had fake grass and a replica of the raised pathway on top.

Eggers said the nonprofit was founded more than six years ago, and it was “inspiring” to see the greenway open for walkers, joggers and bicyclists.

“People who live, work or want to play along the 85 corridor can now get on a bike (or) go for a walk to get where they need to go,” Eggers said.

About 3 miles of the Peachtree Creek Greenway are projected to run through Brookhaven; leaders estimated that the remaining two miles could be built in the next five to seven years.

MORE DEKALB NEWS: Former sheriff loses law enforcement certification days after retiring

Other municipalities, including Atlanta, Chamblee and Doraville would be responsible for funding and organizing the future legs of the greenway that run through their cities. Eggers said the nonprofit has been in conversation with them.

Brookhaven paid about $10 million in hotel-motel tax funds for the first mile of the trail. The city also plans to install a $15 million public safety complex along the greenway, near the Briarwood Road trailhead.

“Today marks an unbelievable achievement,” said Councilman Joe Gebbia, whose district includes the area where the greenway is located. “What it’s going to spark is amazing.”

The city partnered with several private entities to make the path a reality, including the Salvation Army and Emory University. The PATH Foundation oversaw the project.

The path is lighted and open every day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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MARTA presents agreement amendment to member governments

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Every jurisdiction has a priority project list.
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Clearer vision for park along Beltline’s Southside Trail emerges

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A rendering of large green spaces that would be a park expansion south of downtown Atlanta. A concept for the park expansion alongside Boulevard, south of downtown. | Rendering courtesy Atlanta Beltline

Community input has informed the latest designs for the Boulevard Crossing Park expansion

Proof that community input matters could come at an Atlanta Beltline meeting this week, where plans for a major park expansion next to the Southside Trail are expected to be detailed—with recommendations from Regular Joes and Janes included.

Plans to expand Boulevard Crossing Park—a five-acre green space in Chosewood Park with direct Southside Trail access, just south of Grant Park—have been percolating for more than a decade.

Boulevard Crossing Park’s initial phase debuted in 2011 with two large, multipurpose fields.

Beltline officials issued requests for qualified park creators last year and selected Cambridge-based Agency Landscape + Planning and locally based Perkins+Will (no stranger to Beltline development) in May. Design and community engagement phases launched soon after.

Now, design teams and Beltline reps are expected to unveil the park vision at a Thursday meeting near the existing green space.

An aerial view of leafy neighborhoods and two park locations. Atlanta Beltline Inc.
The park’s wedge-shaped concept and location adjacent to the Beltline, with Grant Park in green above.

The expanded park would be five times larger, incorporating “recommendations and feedback [collected] during previous community meetings that led to the design vision,” Beltline officials relayed this week.

Project leaders have said Boulevard Crossing Park additions could include trails, a playground, public art, expanded play fields, and the city’s fifth splash pad.

We’ve asked Beltline officials for information on park construction and opening timelines, as well as expected costs, and will update this post should that come.

An aerial view of a planned park with several buildings and the Beltline corridor around it. Google Maps
The park site’s condition shown in recent years, with existing athletic fields and early signs of Beltline-adjacent residential construction in the area.

The meeting is schedule for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Atlanta Community Tool Bank (401 Englewood Avenue SE), where free parking is available, though Beltline officials encourage attendees to walk, ride a bike, or use MARTA buses (No. 9 and 49) that service the area.

It’s open to the public but is focused on the Beltline’s Southeast Study Group area. That includes sections of Grant Park, Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, Edgewood, Glenwood Park, Ormewood Park, Boulevard Heights, Chosewood Park, South Atlanta, and Peoplestown.

UPDATE: More images, just provided:

A more detailed look at what’s above.

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Atlanta makes Georgia a national leader in green building, but why is growth so slow?

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Courtyard with swimming pool surrounded by multi-story, colorful apartment buildings. LEED-stamped living in Atlanta at AMLI Piedmont Heights. | AMLI Residential

Most current LEED residential housing is limited to multifamily developments rather than single-family homes

For years, Atlantans have called for more environmentally friendly transportation solutions—more rail transit, increased pedestrian corridors, a shift toward increased teleworking—but that eco-friendly focus has yet to gain a stronghold in the residential building industry.

That’s not to say green residential building is nonexistent here, in this City in a Forest.

According to Rhiannon Jacobsen, U.S. Green Building Council vice president of strategic relationships, Georgia has been a leader in the adoption of LEED across the residential sector, making it an outlier in the Southeast. (That’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)

“The state ranks No. 10 in the country in terms of the number of LEED-certified residential units with nearly 6,000, and more than 1,700 of those qualify as affordable housing,” she says. “Atlanta is responsible for most of that LEED activity.”

However, the primary source of that LEED activity is in multifamily developments rather than single-family homes. For instance, both AMLI Buckhead and AMLI Piedmont Heights are LEED Platinum-certified.

“Over half of AMLI’s Atlanta portfolio is already LEED-certified, and we’re continuing that commitment with two more certifications on track for completion in 2020,” says Erin Hatcher, AMLI Residential vice president of sustainability.

Map of United States with top 10 states highlighted, including Georgia. U.S. Green Building Council LEED in Motion Residential/July 2019
While Georgia squeaks its way into the Top 10 states for LEED-certified residential units, the total volume is hardly impressive.

Other multifamily developments with LEED-certified units in the Atlanta area include ENSO Apartments, Azure on the Park, FLATS at Ponce City Market, and Trace Midtown.

Of course, multifamily developers can more easily cover higher costs associated with sustainable building, given that their buildings have many shared features.

Paying those costs upfront can be a challenge for individual homebuilders or residential housing developers building single units.

This is especially true, given the lack of incentives, from rebates to tax credits, by local, state, and federal governments.

Bar chart showing the increase of LEED-certified residential units between 2001 and 2018. U.S. Green Building Council LEED in Motion Residential/July 2019
While national growth of LEED-certified residential units has been strong, Atlanta’s contributions are much smaller.

Even something as (relatively) simple as installing solar panels in Atlanta has been hampered by installation costs, power rates, and lack of incentives, which deter many homeowners from embracing this technology.

According to Jacobsen, the biggest challenge is that the general public doesn’t immediately recognize how green buildings contribute to their personal quality of life. The USGBC, she says, needs to do a better job of communicating those benefits.

However, it also could be said residential housing developers may not recognize the benefits of green buildings.

Graphic stating the benefits of green residential housing. U.S. Green Building Council LEED in Motion Residential/July 2019
The benefits of green residential housing are numerous.

Otherwise, it could be argued, there would be a bigger push for more green housing developments of single-family homes, in addition to multifamily projects.

So what’s the future hold for green residential building in Metro Atlanta?

Per Jacobsen, residents should expect to see increased green building activity among multi- and single-family homes through 2022.

“When it comes to the use of LEED, we expect Atlanta to continue to be a strong market and help show others how green housing can be a smart economic, social, and environmental investment,” Jacobsen says.

“Our hope is that sustainable homes become the norm in the residential sector, and that one day we no longer have to ask whether a home is green,” she says. “Until then, we’re providing the tools and resources to help the industry make the transition.”

For starters, the USGBC lists its top five web resources of 2019 for green building here.

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