Known Flaws Sunk Savannah Harbor Project with South Carolina
Problems cited by South Carolina in its recent denial of a certification for the Savannah Harbor deepening project echoed comments submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by conservation groups in Georgia and South Carolina.
In January 2011, the Southern Environmental Law Center outlined the same problems with the project to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of Center for a Sustainable Coast, National Wildlife Federation, Savannah Riverkeeper, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.
“The Corps and GPA sought the certification from South Carolina for their plan knowing it was flawed,” said Chris DeScherer, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “In addition to continued questions about its actual economic benefit to Savannah, the deepening project would threaten the city’s water supply and destroy aquatic life and unique habitats in the Savannah River.”
The proposed deepening of the river raises substantial concerns over harm to the Savannah River system and life dependent on the river’s health. Among the major concerns of deepening are lower oxygen levels in the river that compromise river life and create complications for industrial dischargers upstream. The threat to river life already subject to seasonal dead zones would be compounded by increasing salt water intrusion into the river. This salt water intrusion also threatens the tap water for the City of Savannah because the higher chloride levels would cause lead to leach from older pipes within the city.
Conservation groups also highlighted the need for a competitive comparison to other Atlantic ports to ensure the best, smartest investment of federal taxpayer money and to minimize damage to natural resources and unnecessary spending.
“To prevent further waste of time and resources, the Corps should do a competitive comparison of the Southeast Atlantic ports to identify the port that would give taxpayers the best return on investment with the least amount of risk and damage,” added Bill Sapp, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “In any case, until a regional port analysis is done, there is no way of knowing how to optimize the use of taxpayer money.”
In its draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Corps asserted that the $600 million project has nothing to do with maintaining or increasing business for the Georgia Ports Authority at the Savannah terminal. If the terminal’s business is unaffected by the proposed deepening and would continue to grow at the same rate without it, the conservation groups point out that spending hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to deepen the river would be unnecessary and wasteful in addition to irreparably harming the river system.