S.C. legislator critical of Savannah deepening
A South Carolina legislator on Monday called an Army Corps of Engineers study on deepening Savannah harbor from 42 feet up to 48 feet “unbalanced and unsound” even as other leaders from the southern part of his state and Georgia signed a resolution calling deepening of both Savannah and Charleston harbors “critical to the economic health” of both states.
The letter from State Sen. Larry Grooms, chairman of the Review and Oversight Commission on the South Carolina State Ports Authority, was in response to request for comments from the Army Corps on its draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) and general re-evaluation report on the plan to deepen the harbor. Tuesday is the deadline for comments.
“We are doubtful our concerns can be adequately addressed in the current project and believe the applicant should withdraw the application, significantly amend it, and resubmit,” Grooms said in the letter.
His letter came the same day a coalition of three groups — the Georgia Ports Authority, Savannah Economic Development Authority, and the Lowcountry Economic Alliance — signed a resolution that said, “In order for the Port of Savannah to remain competitive in the near term, and to allow post-Panamax ships to have full access to the Savannah River and its ports, the river must be dredged to 48 feet as envisioned by the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.”
‘The proposed deepening of the Savannah River is clearly important to the economic vitality for Georgia and South Carolina,’ said Curtis J. Foltz, the GPA’s executive director. ‘Each of our organizations recognizes the importance of bringing to fruition the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, the deepening of the Charleston Harbor and the development of the Jasper Ocean Terminal infrastructure. We firmly believe this region’s future demographic growth requires all three ports to be successful.’
The Jasper Ocean Terminal is a proposed container terminal on the north bank of the Savannah River, downstream from the existing port. The Lowcountry Economic Alliance is described as the “regional economic development arm of Jasper and Beaufort Counties, S.C., formed by the respective county councils to create an economic vision for the region, attract new business and diversify the tax base.”
The coalition notes that as much as 60 percent of the employees at deepwater terminals along the Savannah River are Georgia residents and as many as 40 percent are South Carolina residents.
In the letter signed by Grooms, the South Carolina port oversight commission raises concerns about in three areas:
‘ Environmental. The commission said the corps has identified impacts upon the habitats of shortnose sturgeon and striped bass, and said recreational fishermen and boaters would be affected. The harbor’s dissolved oxygen would decrease and proposed techniques to restore it “have not been thoroughly vetted.” It also said environmental damage from deepening the harbor “means that no future project could be permitted on the Savannah River, including the deepening needed to accommodate two-way post-Panamax traffic at the Jasper Ocean Terminal.”
‘ Economic. Grooms letter said the “Corps fails to reconcile the severe and dangerous limitations imposed by its imprudent recommendations for draft, channel width, vessel speed and single-lane layout,” and “wrongly implies that the channel could accommodate significant numbers of the largest post-Panamax ships. The Corps’ defective channel models are neither wide enough nor deep enough to allow for unencumbered use by these vessels.” And it said the Corps believes that the port would enjoy same growth in container traffic regardless of whether or not the harbor is deepened. “If this is accurate, why would taxpayers spend a dime to make any ‘improvements’ to the Savannah River?”
‘ Navigation. The oversight commission complained of a “daunting number” of inconsistencies concern navigability in the study, saying “tonnage estimates suggest the use of post-Panamax ships with drafts of 50 feet, but the DEIS itself shows ships with drafts as low as 46 feet would run aground, even in normal weather conditions.” Grooms’ letter added that his oversight commission “is alarmed to find a recommendation for an ‘acceptable level of risk of accidents’ is not in keeping with published U.S. Army Corps of Engineers standards for channel width and depth.” ‘ Chris Dupin