The U.S. Supreme Court has appointed a new special master to handle the long-running legal battle between Florida and Georgia over water in the Apalachicola River system.
The court on Thursday named Paul J. Kelly Jr., a federal appellate judge from Santa Fe, N.M., to replace Maine lawyer Ralph Lancaster as special master.
A one-paragraph order from the court did not explain the reasons for the move.
The Supreme Court in June overturned a 2017 recommendation by Lancaster that found Florida had not proven its case “by clear and convincing evidence” that imposing a cap on Georgia’s water use would benefit Florida water systems, including oyster-rich Apalachicola Bay in Franklin County.
The 5-4 decision found that Lancaster had “applied too strict a standard” in rejecting Florida’s claim that overconsumption of water in Georgia is damaging the Apalachicola River system. The ruling sent the case back to the special master, though it did not mean that the Supreme Court was siding with Florida on the underlying issues in the case.
Florida filed the lawsuit in 2013, although the case is only the latest chapter of a decades-old battle about the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, which starts in Georgia and flows south to Florida.
The order about Kelly’s appointment gave him authority to “fix the time and conditions for the filing of additional pleadings, to direct subsequent proceedings, to summon witnesses, to issue subpoenas, and to take such evidence as may be introduced and such as he may deem it necessary to call for.”