We encourage everyone to submit your own comments on the water situation to both of the email addresses below. If they are submitted within 10 days of the hearing, which would be by Thursday, Aug. 22, your comments will be included as an official part of the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing record. Feel free to address how the lack of freshwater flowing down river has negatively impacted your business and our community’s economy.
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About 250 people from every portion of the county attended a media event Tuesday organized by the Apalachicola Riverkeeper.
An hour before the field hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the stairs to the front door of the county courthouse were packed tight with protestors. Passing vehicles honked horns in solidarity as the crowd chanted, “Save our river! Save our bay!” and “What do we want? Water!”
The landing at the top of the stairs was reserved for elected officials and it too was packed to standing room only with commissioners from Franklin and surrounding counties, Apalachicola’s mayor and city commission members from both Apalachicola and Carrabelle, and members of the legislative delegation.
As the faithful trickled in swelling the crowd, strains of country music, blues and reggae echoed across US 98. Many members of the throng waved handmade protest signs. About a dozen members of the press filmed the protest or snapped pictures of the scene.
A dozen speakers kicked off with County Commissioner Smokey Parrish who welcomed members of the Senate and the crowd “on behalf of Apalachicola River and Bay.” He called for change to, “sustain our culture, heritage and history.”
He introduced State Senator Bill Montford (D-Blountstown) who gave one of the most stirring speeches of the event. “Right is right and wrong is wrong and what we have done to the Apalachicola River and Bay is wrong,” he said, describing the bay as a “God-given gift” unique in the world.
“We want our fair share of water and a little more,” he told a cheering crowd.
Montford was followed by Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson who spoke eloquently on the destruction of the bay ecosystem.
He said the people of the county have been forced to, “helplessly watch the destruction of a resource capable of sustaining and providing employment.” He criticized Atlanta’s “unprincipled thirst brought on by a lack of planning and unbridled growth.”
“The lack of action in Washington, including the Supreme Court, is more offensive than the withholding of water from our river,” said Johnson.
Next was a surprise visit from State Senator Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), who is vacationing on St. George Island with 36 family members, including his brother Mason Bean. He said this is the 14th year for the “Cool Beans family reunion.”
“There is something special here that’s worth fighting for. It is a humongous deal that the Senate would move their committee meeting to this little town,” he said. “I have to be a realist and tell you that this is just the first step. People up north will hear about this and ask ‘What’s the big deal?’”
Bean urged the crowd to keep pushing and to post their demands on social media. “Georgia will not roll over on this,” he warned after the rally.
He said he was invited to attend the hearing but,”I gave my seat to somebody who has a family and makes a living on the bay. He has a stronger voice.”
Bean was followed by Carrabelle City Commissioner Cal Allen who reminded the crowd that a recent study from Florida State University showed 90 percent of gag grouper harvested in the Gulf begin life in the Apalachicola estuary. County Commissioner Pinki Jackel and Chad Taylor from the Riparian County Stakeholder coalition expressed solidarity, followed by County Commissioner Noah Lockley.
Himself an oysterman, Lockley said, “In the beginning, God made a perfect world. Now we must come together to get this fixed. We’re taking it all the way to Washington so they might as well get ready.”
The Rev. John Sink of Eastpoint spoke in the form of a prayer. “God hears our prayers. We want our legislators to hear them too,” he said.
The last speaker was Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello) who apologized for being delayed and promised not to give up on the fight to save the river.
During the rally, the Riverkeeper collected several hundred signatures on a petition to present to the Senate pleading for additional water to save Apalachicola Bay.