Clashes and controversy over Savannah River dredging permit

February 15, 2012 by  

South Carolina legislators put a hold on Georgia’s tentative plans to expand the port of Savannah. In November, the board of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), granted a dredging permit to the state of Georgia. This would have allowed the Savannah port to span 48 feet and 36 miles up the Savannah River.

The decision created controversy because two months prior to the awarding of the permit, DHEC agency officials denied the request. Then, at the request of South Carolina Governor Nikki Hale, DHEC board members agreed to reconsider the permit petition at an appeal hearing in November following a meeting between Hale and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. The DHEC, Georgia and the Army Corps of Engineers reached an agreement minutes before the hearing was scheduled to commence, however.

Lawmakers derided the decision by claiming that it gave Georgia a competitive advantage over ports in Charleston. Also, South Carolina’s planned building of a port in Jasper would have been impeded under the terms of the agreement. The Southern Environmental Law Center claims that the dredging permit will result in a depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water, ruin the habitats of endangered fish and damage hundreds of acres of freshwater marsh.

A hearing in December involving DHEC employees and board members, absolved Gov. Hale of any accusations of improper influence on the proceedings. It was also revealed that agency officials lacked proper understanding about the science, environmental and economic repercussions of granting the permit. Consequently, the South Carolina legislature voted unanimously to suspend the DHEC’s authority on dredging and reverse the permit.

Opponents and proponents of the dredging will rely heavily on public opinion and influence. Radio spots, television advertisement and flyer printing in affected areas like Savannah will play an important role in informing the public.