Press Release | February 3, 2012

Corps Not Exempt from Pollution Controls on Savannah Deepening Project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to obtain a South Carolina pollution control permit for its controversial project to deepen the Savannah River, according to a lawsuit filed today in state court by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Georgia and South Carolina conservation groups.

“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, Southern Environmental Law Center. “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. As it stands now, the Corps proposes to dredge up potentially toxic pollutants, dump spoils in South Carolina, and damage the river so badly it needs mechanical life support that the government’s own experts say could be lethal.”

According to the claim filed in state circuit court in Jasper County, the Corps failed to obtain a permit that would ensure the implementation of pollution controls during its 38-mile deepening project as required by South Carolina law. Dredging to deepen the river to the planned 48 feet will stir up toxic cadmium and other pollutants and discharge the pollution into the water. Exposure to certain forms and concentrations of cadmium is known to produce toxic effects on humans. The Corps plans to dump much of its dredging spoil in Jasper County, South Carolina.

The $650 million deepening project will deplete the Savannah River’s dissolved oxygen levels so much that the Corps proposes to put the river on untested mechanical life support—called Speece cones—for perpetuity. Even if Speece cones work and funds are found for their ongoing maintenance, the Corps’ own experts report that “the oxygen injection system proposed (Speece cones) could have lethal impacts to fish species.” Endangered and threatened short-nosed sturgeon, American shad and striped bass in the Savannah River would be among the fish harmed by either the deepening or the Corps’ proposed Speece cones.

Lower oxygen levels in the Savannah River from deepening will also create complications for industrial dischargers and lake communities upstream, and seasonal dead zones compounded by salt water intrusion further into the river and the ground water supplies for local communities on both sides of the river.

Attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center filed today’s claim in state court on behalf of the Savannah Riverkeeper, based in Augusta, as well as the Coastal Conservation League and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Georgia Ports Authority propose to spend $650 million in taxpayer money and irreparably harm the river despite the Corps’ finding that deepening the river for large “post-panamax” ships would not increase Savannah’s port business and that cargo volume would remain the same even without the costly deepening project.

Press Contacts

Christopher K. DeScherer

Director, South Carolina Office

Phone: 843-720-5270

Frank Holleman

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 919-967-1450

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-967-1450
Email: ksullivan@selcnc.org