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UF Conservation Clinic Teams Up With Georgia Bulldogs On River Conservation Project

Law students from the University of Florida and the University of Georgia met at the border for something other than football — an opportunity to canoe the St. Mary's River, the boundary water between the two adjoining states.

The UF Law Conservation Clinic and the University of Georgia Environmental Law Practicum have teamed up for a trans-boundary water law project that involves researching and petitioning the state of Florida for an Outstanding Florida Water designation for the river (if warranted by research), while designing some sort of similar protection for the river in Georgia — which does not have an analogous regulation.

The two law school-based service learning programs are working with the St. Mary's River Management Committee, a volunteer board appointed by the four counties that border the river (Nassau and Baker in Florida; Camden and Charleston in Georgia) and supported by the St. Johns River Water Management District. Students will also be looking into shared watershed cooperation mechanisms at the local level that could harmonize planning and local riverine protection regulations.

Project team members from both schools also got to savor some of the Old South as they stayed overnight at the riverfront hunting lodge of Merrill Varn, a committee member whose family owns 20,000 acres of working forest along the river in Georgia.

They worked well into the night on a plan for jointly executing the project. The following day the rest of the UF Law clinic joined the team for the paddle. The contingent was impressed to see a family moving their ruined belongings out of a riverfront home that sat on stilts 14 feet above the river — the victim of flooding in the aftermath of tropical storm Fay.

Equally impressive was the array of "redneck river furniture" (homemade smokers and grills, dilapidated shade structures and lawn chairs) encountered on the river’s occasional sand banks, a sign of its local recreational value.

Although the two groups are looking forward to working together, they agreed that it would not be good for the project to meet on Nov. 1, the day of the Florida/Georgia game. "Collaboration can only go so far," said UF Law 3L and team member John November. Other UF law students working on the clinic project are Rachel Mertz and Kristianna Lindgren.

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