Water wars special master has made $160,000 so far

Somebody, invariably, profits from war and the never-ending water war between Georgia and Florida is no exception.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal set aside another $10 million to pay an army of lawyers — 70 at last count — to argue that the state is a prudent steward of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. The state, during the course of the 27-year-long legal struggle with Florida over an equitable apportionment of the rivers, has paid $40 million in attorneys’ fees.

Florida contends that upstream Georgia unfairly hogs the water to the detriment of the Apalachicola River, the environment and the livelihoods of oystermen in the Gulf of Mexico. Florida sued Georgia in 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court waded into the legal fray two years ago by appointing a “special master” to resolve the watery mess.

The AJC this week perused Supreme Court filings in Florida v. Georgia and discovered that the special master, Ralph Lancaster of Portland, Maine, was paid $159,445 between November 2014 and February 2016. In addition to Lancaster’s salary, the payments covered fellow attorney Joshua Dunlap’s fees and other legal, technical, stenographic and clerical costs.

Georgia and Florida are sharing the cost — a bargain, according to Lancaster.

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“My current hourly rate is $650, and Josh’s current hourly rate is $275,” the special master said in December 2014 during compensatory discussions with Georgia and Florida. “I propose to charge $550 for my rate and $225 for Josh’s rate, mindful of … the public service aspect of this process.”

Georgia can expect to shell out much more for Lancaster’s services. A trial is scheduled to begin October 31 in Washington D.C. and could last at least six weeks. Hotels aren’t cheap in the nation’s capital.

Lancaster declined comment.

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