Haley, Graham discuss port deepening in Savannah, Charleston

By Matt Tomsic
mtomsic@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 16, 2011

Gov. Nikki Haley defended the decision by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to grant Georgia an environmental permit for its harbor deepening project.

Minutes earlier, Sen. Lindsey Graham struck the same tone while discussing federal efforts to secure money for the deepening of Charleston Harbor.

Gov. Nikki Haley
Gov. Nikki Haley
Haley’s and Graham’s remarks came during the Charleston Propeller Club’s State of the Port event.

Haley asked everyone to eat quietly “because we have to have an honest discussion, a very real discussion about where we’re going in South Carolina and what this last seven days has been about.”

During the past week, DHEC denied an environmental permit for Savannah’s port deepening project. The board then switched positions and granted the permit the day DHEC was scheduled to hear from Savannah officials about the project. The board and Haley have been criticized for the abrupt reversal.

Haley said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal flew to South Carolina to meet with Haley about the deepening project and DHEC’s initial denial of the environmental permit. During the conversation, Deal asked Haley to allow Georgia officials to meet with the DHEC board.

“I gave him that courtesy,” she said.

Haley said the flip-flop happened because Georgia agreed to accountability measures to protect oxygen levels and wetlands on South Carolina’s side of the border. She said DHEC also had a letter from the Army Corps of Engineers that said the corps didn’t need DHEC's permission to begin deepening Savannah’s harbor to 48 feet.

Sen. Lindsey Graham
Sen. Lindsey Graham
“We actually came out better,” Haley said, adding people who think Charleston’s harbor can be deepened but Savannah’s could be blocked are “not being realistic.”

Haley said she wasn't scared of a 48-foot harbor in Savannah because Charleston and South Carolina will out-compete Georgia.

“There is nothing that I am more committed to than the Port of Charleston,” Haley said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who called into the State of the Port, echoed Haley, asking her and South Carolina to “work together when you can.” Graham said if the state has a dispute with another state, handle it in a way that allows him to continue looking for funding to deepen Charleston Harbor.

Graham said he created a pot of $10.5 million in a subcommittee appropriations bill to establish a merit-based system to pay for country’s port deepening projects. Graham said the Senate still must vote on the bill. To accomplish passage, Graham said he needs to work with every delegation in the House and Senate.

From a federal point of view, Graham said he can’t deepen Charleston’s harbor and leave everyone else out.

“That’s not going to work,” he said. “We’re going to ask for money to deepen this port because it’s the best thing for the taxpayers on the entire East Coast.”

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