Law center criticizes timetable for Savannah River deepening

Staff Report
Published July 23, 2012

The Southern Environmental Law Center is criticizing an expedited timetable for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project announced by President Barack Obama last week.

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Obama named the Port of Savannah’s deepening project — along with the Port of Charleston’s harbor deepening — as one of seven priority infrastructure projects nationwide and committed to finishing all federal permitting and review decisions for the Savannah project by November. The harbor expansion will deepen the Savannah River 5 feet to a depth of 47 feet, allowing better access to Georgia Ports Authority terminals.

“The problems of deepening the Savannah River remain regardless of political promises to spend blindly millions of taxpayer dollars without knowing which multi-million port expansion is the best bang for the public’s buck,” said Chris DeScherer, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a news release. “The corps claims that the Savannah Harbor expansion won’t increase business to the port and won’t create new permanent jobs, so this announcement raises all kinds of questions of why Washington is rushing to approve such a destructive $650 million project before November.”

Conservation groups and the Savannah River Maritime Commission have argued the environmental impacts — lower dissolved oxygen levels and threats to the river’s ecosystem — outweigh the benefits of the project.

Meanwhile, the S.C. State Ports Authority has argued the harbor expansion will have a negative impact on the Jasper Ocean Terminal, a proposed bi-state port on the Savannah River in Jasper County. Late last year, the ports authority board suspended funding for the Jasper terminal, citing concerns about the harbor expansion’s impact.

“The proposed Savannah River deepening was probably fine when first conceived in 1999, but today’s global shipping environment requires more,” said Bill Stern, chairman of the ports authority board, at the time. “It’s a bad deal for the taxpayer to spend billions of dollars for a new Jasper Ocean Terminal on a last generation river. That means another deepening project, beyond the one currently being reviewed, would be required.”

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