USA: Groups Ask Supreme Court to Revoke Savannah Deepening Approval

Georgia and South Carolina conservation groups yesterday filed papers asking that the South Carolina Supreme Court declare that the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s approval of a controversial project to deepen the Savannah River was illegal.

Attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center filed today’s claim in the S. C. Supreme Court in Columbia, S.C., on behalf of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, Savannah Riverkeeper, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.

DHEC had no authority to cut a backroom deal with Georgia and issue a permit for this destructive, wasteful project because the South Carolina legislature gave authority over this matter to the Savannah River Maritime Commission in 2007,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We’re asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to declare that the DHEC Board acted unlawfully by usurping powers vested in the commission.”

Yesterday’s filing asserts that under the 2007 law that created the Commission, DHEC had no authority to issue a permit for the 38-mile deepening project that’s expected to cost $650 million—much of it from taxpayers’ pockets—and seriously damage the Savannah River and surrounding marshes in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.

Last week, the South Carolina legislature voted to override Governor Haley’s veto of a bill that reiterated the Savannah River Maritime Commission’s power to negotiate with Georgia on behalf of South Carolina and approve projects in navigable waters of the Lower Savannah River.

Scientists warn that deepening the Savannah River will deplete its dissolved oxygen levels to levels dangerous for aquatic life so the Army Corps of Engineers proposes to put the river on untested mechanical life support for perpetuity.

Lower oxygen levels in the Savannah River create complications for industrial dischargers and lake communities upstream, and seasonal dead zones compounded by salt water intrusion further into the river.

The deepening project threatens to contaminate ground water supplies for local communities on both sides of the river. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Georgia Ports Authority are pushing the deepening to accommodate large “Post-Panamax” ships, but their own studies predict that the project would not increase Savannah’s port volume over what it would be if the river were not deepened. The studies also fail to examine whether the larger ships could be accommodated more cheaply for taxpayers with less environmental damage at other ports.

Dredging Today Staff, March 7, 2012

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