By Matt Tomsic
Published Feb. 3, 2012
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit today arguing the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t get a South Carolina pollution control permit for its project to deepen the Savannah River.
“This project cannot proceed until and unless the corps obtains a South Carolina Pollution Control Act permit that guarantees the right of citizens to review the proposal and reduce its serious impacts on the Savannah River,” said Chris DeScherer, senior attorney for Southern Environmental Law Center, in a news release. “The federal government cannot ignore South Carolina’s process to protect the health of the state’s natural resources and its residents against the risks and harm of deepening.”
The law center filed the claim in Jasper County on behalf of Savannah Riverkeeper, Coastal Conservation League and S.C. Wildlife Federation.
South Carolina law requires the corps to obtain a permit to ensure pollution controls during the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which would deepen 38 miles of the Savannah River to 48 feet, according to the lawsuit.
The dredging project will lift cadmium and other pollutants from the river and could discharge those pollutants onto South Carolina land. Army Corps officials in Savannah, though, have said the cadmium levels aren’t concentrated enough to have adverse affects.
The corps plans to deposit the cadmium-containing dredge spoils in Jasper County, where the lawsuit was filed, according to the release.
The law center also argues the harbor expansion will lower dissolved oxygen levels in the Savannah River, and the corps mitigation for the lower levels is untested. The corps plans to put Speece cones in the river. The cones will take river water, pump oxygen into the water then release the water back into the river. The lower dissolved oxygen levels could endanger the short-nosed sturgeon, American shad and striped bass in the river.
The $650 million deepening project is being done in anticipation of the expansion of the Panama Canal, which port officials say will open the East Coast to larger post-Panamax ships.