The Savannah River Maritime Commission filed a motion to intervene Wednesday in a lawsuit between conservationists and the Army Corps of Engineers over the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which is expected to deepen the Savannah River by 5 feet.
By Matt Tomsic
Published July 12, 2012
The Savannah River Maritime Commission has asked to intervene in a lawsuit between conservation groups and the Army Corps of Engineers, arguing the lawsuit’s charges are related to a decision the commission made in May.
In February, the Southern Environmental Law Center argued the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t get a South Carolina pollution control permit for the harbor expansion project, according to a lawsuit. The Savannah Riverkeeper, Coastal Conservation League and S.C. Wildlife Federation are plaintiffs in the case.
The commission argues South Carolina created it to oversee matters involving the Savannah River, including dredging, sledge disposal and other river deepening issues, and the lawsuit’s claims are based on regulations administered by the maritime commission.
On May 8, the maritime commission directed the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Savannah River to 45 feet, not the 47 feet recommended by the Army Corps, as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which will allow better access to Georgia Ports Authority terminals.
During the meeting, staff briefed the commission about the harbor expansion project and the reasons for its recommendation of 45 feet.
The environmental impacts to deepening to 47 feet are more adverse than deepening to 45 feet, while the economic benefits between the two depths are minimal, staff said.
The two-foot difference eventually would lead to 46 fewer vessel calls at Georgia Ports Authority terminals. In 2011, the Port of Savannah had 2,344 vessel calls, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.
State Sen. Larry Grooms, a member of the maritime commission, said the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is a complicated issue, and the commission has been concerned about the environmental impacts.
“To needlessly destroy the environment is unacceptable,” Grooms said during the meeting.
The deepening project’s goal should be within limits both states can live with, he said.
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.