Support for barge traffic on 'Hooch and Flint drying up

Florida Sen. Bob Graham is planning to introduce a bill in Congress that could put an end to barge traffic on the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola rivers. Graham is proposing to permanently remove funds for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge Apalachicola Bay. Dredging is necessary to keep the river deep enough for barges to make it to the Gulf of Mexico. ?

The dredging also damages the bay's ecosystem. The Public Interest Research Group estimates that dredging leads to a 50 percent to 75 percent decline in gamefish populations. Wetlands near the river are being buried underneath the river bottom that the Corp scoops up and dumps along the Apalachicola's banks.?

President Bush already has proposed to cut funding for the dredging in the 2002 budget. Graham's bill would remove the dredging funds from the Corps' budget indefinitely.?

Hoping to get support for the cuts, Graham took Georgia and Alabama representatives and senators (including Sens. Zell Miller and Max Cleland and Reps. Bob Barr, Mac Collins and Sanford Bishop) on a boat tour of the Apalachicola May 12.?

But Graham was unable to sway Bishop, who swears to fight any effort that would restrict barge traffic.?

"There's been a big investment made by federal, state and local governments [for dredging] and it's definitely indisputable that there have been economic benefits for areas in his district in southwest Georgia," Bishop's spokesman Selby McCash says.

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