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Crist in damage control in oyster-land

Gov. Charlie Crist's handling of the water dispute with Georgia over its withdrawals from the Apalachicola River's watershed isn't earning high praise in Apalachicola, where townsfolk met today to voice concerns about the future of the bay and their economy.

Shrimp catches are nearly non-existent for many. Osytermen report there's only one good oyster bar to work (four are dead or dying) due to hyper-salinity. And eco-tour company owners say flows are so low that the marsh is dry.

Associated Press reports that Crist 1) agreed to lower river flows and 2) backed away from it have many in Franklin County concerned. Crist disputed the report and yesterday assured a county delegation in the Capitol that he never struck a deal and he'll fight for the county. "I get it," he said. "I'm with you."

But is he? County officials say they believe Crist, but a number of citizens and fishermen aren't sure.

"He needs to get his ass up there and get to bat. He's striking out. It's a full count. Just swing the bat!" laughed Bruce Rotella, a 48-year-old lifelong oysterman.

Is this the 9th inning?

"For us it is," he said. "If he lets them take more water now and they go with that two-year program, In two years, I'll be out in Louisiana or somewhere else oystering. I won't even be able to live here. And I was born and raised here my whole life."

In an oystershell, here's the problem: The Army Corps of Engineers in 2006 limited water flows into the Apalachicola to about 5,000 cubic feet a second. And oystermen and shrimpers say that has been a killer. Yet now, the latest corps decision limits flows to 4,750 -- which is lower than what many say is too low.

But the state hasn't sued. At least not yet.

Crist's environment chief, Mike Sole, was at the Apalachicola meeting and talked tough to clear up any "misunderstandings." He said the state would fight in court but that Crist sees an opportunity to settle more than 15 years of litigation over the watershed.

Sole said Georgia Gov. Sonny "Perdue and the media" are looking at short-term solutions in "sprint mode" while Crist is looking at this as a marathon. Sole, crediting the reporting of the Tallahassee Democrat on the issue, also took time to knock the AP, saying "under no circumstances was a deal cut" with Georgia.

So where did that idea come from? Maybe it was this quote from Crist after the reduced water flows were announced at a Washington press conference: "I think that what we had today was a great discussion, a great understanding."

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