Farmer's irrigation lawsuit dismissed

A federal court has ruled that south Georgia farmer Dave Wills failed to prove his allegations of discrimination in the administration of the Flint River Drought Protection Act water auction last March.

The suit, which sought compensation for Wills and other affected farmers, was dismissed in its entirety by Judge Richard Story.

Wills, of Webster County, had alleged that his rights to equal protection and due process under the Constitution were violated because the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) conducted the irrigation reduction auction using incorrect information concerning perennial water sources and the number of acres that farmers had under irrigation, thereby improperly excluding him from participating on two permitted irrigation sites.

The suit claimed that numerous other farmers were treated in the same manner, and it sought to have the court establish a class-action suit on their behalf. But the court said that Wills did not recount the facts with “sufficient specificity” to support the claim.

The court further said that to support his claims, Wills would have to show that EPD intentionally or purposefully discriminated against him. Judge Story wrote “At most, the facts alleged and the evidence presented indicate that the EPD negligently implemented the law”, but does not show that the defendants “acted with requisite bad intent.”

Wills, while disappointed that the court ruled against him, especially since it never entertained any evidence other than that presented in the written complaint, says that he believes the suit put pressure on EPD to correct its data in preparation for any subsequent auctions that might be held.

“EPD had staff in Webster County from Dec. 3-5, 2001, working with farmers to make sure that everybody agrees on what land and irrigation sites are eligible for the auction,” said Wills.

He also noted that EPD had contracted with Columbus State University to perform field inspections to determine whether or not certain irrigation sites were on perennial water sources. Wills said that several farmers were visited by students from CSU during September and October to inspect water sources that EPD had said were intermittent, even though the farmers had protested otherwise prior to the auction in March of last year. Wills said he believes the actions of EPD to clear up these disputes are, in part, a result of the suit he filed.

“I certainly hope that the rains return and there is no need for a future auction. But if the drought continues and an auction is announced, I want to know that every eligible farmer is included. I think my suit has helped move us towards that goal.”

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