Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Brunswick News on the treatment of National Guardsmen:
To suggest the U.S. House and Senate operate in a dreadfully contentious environment is a proverbial understatement.
Fortunately, lawmakers from both political parties yelled loudly this week. All the noise persuaded the Pentagon to take a least a beginning step to alleviate severe financial woes that former and current California National Guardsmen have been facing for years.
Around 2005, the Pentagon set up plans to entice guardsmen to sign up for bonuses or student loan payments of up to $25,000. That initiative was intended, at least in part, to get the soldiers to redeploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Several years later, audits determined that about 14,000 men and women with the California National Guard, as well as some in other states, received bonuses that were improper because of recruiters' overzealous effort to resign them. Three officers and a staff sergeant pleaded guilty to fraud, and 100 other soldiers were punished.
Yet ultimately, the guardsmen who received the bonuses got stuck with the Pentagon's demand for repayment, leaving many of them in dire straits, some even expected to pay interest and penalty fees for late payments.
Ash Carter, the Department of Defense secretary, has suspended collection of the bonus payments. That action is supposed to give Congress and the Pentagon time to plan for a full reimbursement process protecting "service members from lifelong liability for (the) mistakes," House Speaker Paul Ryan said.
This is a controversy that begs for a solution. Sadly, a bipartisan effort could always fall apart, leaving the guardsmen in limbo. Earlier this week, The Los Angeles Times described the story of Susan Haley, a 26-year Army master sergeant who had deployed overseas.
Eight years later and now a Texas resident, Haley has been sending $650 a month to the Pentagon — 25 percent of her income. She has feared that she would have to sell her home to pay off the debt.
"I feel totally betrayed," Haley told The Times. "They'll get their money, but I want those years back."
With the new decision, she won't have to keep making payments, but she deserves far more. Those who serve in the National Guard are called citizen-soldiers for a reason. Instead the guardsmen caught in this ongoing cycle understandably believe they've been abandoned. As another soldier told The Times, "I signed a contract that I risked my life to fulfill."
Again, Congressional Republicans and Democrats should play nice together to get badly-needed funds back to the soldiers and as well, to symbolically restore their citizenship.
The Savannah Morning News on motorists sharing the road with bicyclists:
Recently, Deborah Ann Wilkowski, at 62 a newly retired Savannah anesthesiologist, was spending a Saturday morning in rural Effingham County doing one of the things she loved.
She was taking a quiet bicycle ride alongside a country road when, just before noon, a pickup truck traveling in the same direction swerved rightward toward her, crossed the white line separating the road from the shoulder and struck Dr. Wilkowski, who was riding on the paved shoulder beyond that white line. She was wearing reflective clothing as an extra precaution.
Troopers say the driver kept going while Dr. Wilkowski was taken to Memorial University Medical Center, where she died. The following day, Dennis Lee Stuart Jr., a 40-year-old Rincon man, turned himself in. He faces charges of vehicular homicide, hit-and-run and driving with a suspended license. A trooper said that if he'd been paying attention he should have seen her.
Her death serves as a tragic reminder of what can happen when motorists and bicyclists encounter each other on rural roads or city streets.
No driver should have to be reminded that bicyclists have a legal right to share the road with them. But here it is: they do have that right. The law says motorists must allow three feet between their vehicles and a bicyclist when passing. Nonetheless, bicyclists report that annoyed motorists sometimes intentionally menace them by pulling close, honking, cursing, even forcing them off the road.
Likewise, no bicyclist should need to be told that they must abide by traffic laws, but here it is: you do. Yes, you can use a full lane as cars do. But too often city pedalers dart through red lights or swerve around stopped cars, thus risking their own lives and unnerving motorists.
And then there are those easy-to-forget hazards. An automobile's blind spots and a driver's subconscious habit of not noticing anything smaller than a car make people on bikes and motorbikes less visible and more vulnerable. It's a challenge to break that habit, but necessary to save lives.
Finally, it also should boil down to common sense. Motorists in their cars and trucks outweigh bicyclists and their bikes many times over. When there's a collision, the cyclist is going to get the worst of it.
Savannah is a lovely place to pedal around. It offers flat roadways, charming neighborhoods, cycling clubs and events. Local governments have created bike paths and bike lanes with more planned and are adding racks and bike-sharing options to encourage and accommodate pedaling. With SCAD downtown and two more universities further out, students on bikes are a common sight, and a welcome one. The fewer cars that are on the road, the cleaner and less congested the city is and the less carbon floats into the air. That we all benefit is something for drivers to remember if annoyed that a bike is taking up part of the road.
And then, of course, there's the nearby countryside offering longer, quieter stretches through bucolic farmland for cyclists and bike clubs fond of longer rides. That's where Dr. Wilkowski, an accomplished M.D. active in cycling and touring clubs and beloved by those who knew her, should have had the peaceful Saturday she had planned and returned home looking forward to more cycling and a happy, active retirement. So take heed: Share the road. And be safe out there.
The Gainesville Times on Georgia's supply of water:
Here we go again: The tri-state water wars, Round ... whatever this one is.
Florida faced Georgia on the field Saturday in Jacksonville, and now in a Maine courtroom starting Monday for the latest round in the battle over who gets more of the Chattahoochee River's precious resource.
It's not yet clear if this is the last legal clash in a duel now in its third decade. But this ruling could decide if Georgia will have to give up more of what flows the length of the state from the mountains through Lake Lanier to the Gulf of Mexico.
Though Georgia won the last and most significant court case to date, there's no guarantee the next ruling will go our state's way. With a new drought gripping the region, and a growing economy hanging in the balance, a court decision that turns off the spigot would be devastating.
The dispute involves how much of the Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola system should be released from dams on Lakes Lanier and Seminole to flow into the Gulf. Georgia needs water to meet the needs of growing communities of North Georgia and metro Atlanta, where a population reaching toward 6 million drives a residential and commercial thirst for water. South Georgia, meanwhile, relies on these rivers to irrigate its farms.
Florida wants more fresh water flowing into Apalachicola Bay for the shellfish harvest that supports its seafood industry. That is the crux of the dispute, and why Florida filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court three years ago.
The river also is vital to Alabama's power plants along the Chattahoochee. That state has filed a friend of the court brief siding with Florida as part of a separate dispute over water in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin.
Now after years of posturing, negotiations and millions in legal fees, the case will be heard this week by Ralph Lancaster, a Portland lawyer the Supreme Court chose to preside over the case.
It's "probably the end game," according to Clyde Morris, attorney for the Lake Lanier Association.
Many Georgia stakeholders may feel confident the ruling will result in another victory. In 2009, a federal judge decreed Georgia had no right to use as much water as it did, but a Court of Appeals overturned that ruling two years later.
Meanwhile, the states have attempted on several occasions to negotiate a way to share the water fairly, though pending lawsuits have quelled a desire to compromise. Florida blew off a meeting with a mediator last month, placing all of its bets on winning in court.
Even if there were such a deal struck, there may not be enough water to go around. As the parties gather to litigate, a serious drought has gripped the Southeast for the third time in the last decade. Previous droughts increased the states' urgency to forge a deal, knowing the finite nature of the water supply put each at risk. Plans were drawn to fill new reservoirs, including the proposed Glades project in North Hall County, but the expense and environmental obstacles have kept them from completion.
Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers has been reworking its water use manual for Lanier, scheduled to be completed by next spring. That's likely when Congress will get involved, and where Georgia is outnumbered by Florida's and Alabama's delegations.
Thus, our state faces a potential double whammy: Rain totals 10 inches below normal for the year, dropping Lanier about that same amount below full pool; and a court case that could leave the state even drier.
Though Atlanta and the rest of Georgia depend on the river basin for drinking and commercial water needs, Gainesville and Hall County have even more at stake. The area's tourism and the value of lake properties are all tied to a full, healthy lake. Droughts and heavier water releases can leave Lake Lanier's shoreline a muddy mess, driving off visitors and leaving docks high and dry.
Georgia has spent $24 million just this year in legal fees to battle the case. All three states have invested treasure, time and political capital over their inability to strike a deal to share water, their fates now resting on a judge's decision. It's a high price to pay, and depending on the ruling, it could get even costlier for some.
This judge may decide to follow what the 2009 ruling tried to accomplish: Force the states to work out the dispute through negotiation or mediation, lest any face the "nuclear option" of losing too much of its water claim. But they have been too far apart to reach an accord, which is why 27 years and millions of dollars later, it all comes down to this.
"Once they see each other's evidence, there might be a greater willingness to find some middle ground," Morris said. "I'm not sure that will happen. I wouldn't necessarily bet on it."
And even if there is a winner and a loser in court, Mother Nature still has the final say as to whether any of us will get as much water as we want.