Wednesday, October 5, 2011

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S.C. environmental agency denies Georgia dredging permit

South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control posted a notice on its website on Friday denying the Army Corps of Engineers a permit to deepen 32 miles of the Savannah River by 6 feet over concerns the dredging would harm the river’s ecosystem.

“After reviewing the project plans, staff of the Division of Water Quality determined that there is not a reasonable assurance that the project will be conducted in a manner consistent with the certification requirements of Section 401 of the Federal Clean Water Act,” the DHEC’s notice said.

The Georgia Ports Authority’s $600 million dredging project now faces a challenge as it readies for the impending widening of the Panama Canal and the projected larger ships from Asia expected to transit eastward to ports on the Atlantic seaboard in the next three-four years.

The DHEC’s concerns over the Corps' current dredging plans include what the regulator says could be increased salinity levels, and decreased oxygen levels, that could cause potential harm to 1,200 acres of South Carolina’s marshland and aquatic life.

Conversely, Georgia’s environmental protection agency approved the permit earlier this year.

"The difference of opinions between the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and this action by the S.C. DHEC is disturbing," said Curtis Foltz, executive director for the GPA in a statement.

“The nation is trying to prepare for commerce and a department of another state seems to be obstructionist in this effort,” Folz said.

South Carolina is home to Georgia’s longtime shipping industry rival, the Port of Charleston. Both state port authorities are engaged in joint oversight of a proposed container terminal upriver from Savannah in Jasper County, S.C. that is reportedly approximately 15 years away from being operational.

“The Savannah River is a shared resource so however it is manipulated it needs to benefit both states,” said South Carolina State Senator Larry Grooms.

“We’ve got one best shot of dredging the river and the best plan would accommodate ships up to the proposed Jasper terminal site,” he said.

The Army Corps. has until Oct. 17 to appeal the DHEC’s decision.

For the full news stories, used in part, in this report:



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