SAVANNAH (WAOK)-Georgia’s plans to deepen the Savannah River to accommodate supersize cargo ships were victorious Thursday when a neighboring South Carolina Agency approved construction in the shared river channel.
Initially rejecting the permit application for fear the project would cause irreparable harm to the waterway’s endangered sturgeon and fragile marshes, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) overturned their decision to do what’s “right for the region.”
To satisfy South Carolina’s latest environmental demands, Georgia added an additional $60 million to the estimated $650 million deepening cost.
Supporters of the deal say that the deepening of the Savannah River to 48 feet from 42 feet could boost trade, revenue and jobs.
However, Senate Transportation Chairman Larry Grooms opposes the proposed port at Jasper, South Carolina, for fear that any dredging would be disastrous to the river and its ecosystem.
Grooms said he would’ve initially supported modified plans to dredge Savannah’s river, but now doubts the Jasper port will be able to get the necessary environmental permits.
In 1999, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah began studying the economic and environmental consequences of a deepened port and river, the preliminary report completed a year ago, insisted that serious environmental issues such as de-oxygenated water, saltwater intrusion and endangered species’ could be mitigated.
Thus, Georgia agreed to preserve roughly 1,500 additional acres of saltwater marsh that it owns in Jasper County to mitigate damage to wetlands.
As for the endangered fish, South Carolina will receive $1.2 million a year for the next 50 years “to ensure enough oxygen is pumped into the river to prevent summertime fish kills,” reported by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), however stated that “regardless of whatever bumps arise in the future, there’s no doubt the region needs all the port capacity it can get.”
Georgia wants to start dredging the Savannah port and river soon to be equipped for bigger container ships that could ply the Atlantic Ocean by 2014.
South Carolina, wanting a larger share of the profitable cargo business, has been undertaking a years-long study to determine the feasibility of deepening the port of Charleston.
The executive director of the GPA said Savannah’s project would mean jobs for the entire region.
As for Atlanta, businesses across the metro region shipped $9.5 billion in cargo through the ports of Savannah and Brunswick the last fiscal year, according to the GPA.
Dredging is expected to take four years. Most East Coast ports are preparing to get deeper to accommodate ever-larger post-Panamax container ships that will begin traversing the Panama Canal in three years.