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Douglas ready to play 'hardball' with Fla.
Proposes moving Ga./Fla. game to Athens

SOCIAL CIRCLE - State Sen. John Douglas is poised to take the water wars between Georgia, Florida and Alabama to a new front - the football field.

Addressing the Social Circle City Council on Tuesday night, Douglas provided an update of pressing matters at the state Capitol, including the ever-deepening budget deficit and a recent ruling by a federal judge in the state's years-long battle with its neighbors over water consumption from Lake Lanier.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled Friday that nearly all Georgia's withdrawals from Lake Lanier are illegal because the lake was built for hydroelectric power, not to supply water.

The judge gave the state three years to work out a solution with Alabama and Florida over rights to the major reservoir. Florida and Alabama depend on downstream flow from Lake Lanier for commercial fisheries, farms, industrial users and municipalities. The Army Corps of Engineers also is required to release adequate water to ensure habitats for species protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Georgia could be forced to make significant concessions to Florida and Alabama that it so far has been unwilling to adopt, like spending hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure, establishing tighter drought restrictions and offering rebates for more efficient toilets, dishwashers and washing machines.

Douglas said this ruling comes just as the contract between the University of Georgia and the University of Florida to play the annual football game in Jacksonville, Fla. - which has been called the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party - is set for renewal.

"But if the state of Florida wants to play hardball, then as far as I'm concerned, the vendors in Jacksonville can frankly pay the price," the Social Circle Republican said.

Douglas said he traditionally "doesn't have a dog in the fight," but with the recent ruling in the tri-state water wars, he's ready to work with UGA's Athletic Association to bring the Georgia-Florida game to Georgia at least every other year.

Douglas said the state of Florida has no incentive to negotiate with Georgia now because "they won the court case."

"Now is the time for us to use economic leverage," he said when contacted by the Citizen on Wednesday. "This is one of the few economic tools we have at our disposal, and I don't think we should ask the people of Georgia to spend their money in Florida and then have them use that money against us in a courtroom."

The state senator added that he was planning to send a letter to UGA President Michael Adams on Wednesday reiterating his position on the annual football game and urged members of the public to do the same.

"With this recession, we could certainly use the sales tax revenue in Athens and Atlanta," Douglas said.

If the two schools do agree to move the football game to the state of Georgia every other year, Douglas said, "the merchants of northeast Florida can thank their state government as they enjoy their quiet weekends that normally would have been football weekends in Jacksonville."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.