The Georgia Ports Authority’s long-pursued plan to deepen the Savannah River cleared a major hurdle Thursday after a South Carolina environmental board unanimously reversed its ruling to block the project.
The board of South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control last month objected to the deepening of the river to 48-feet from the current 42-feet on environmental grounds. Savannah needs to deepen the river so it can handle larger ships able to pass through the expanded Panama Canal in late 2014.
The policy shift came after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who previously opposed the Savannah’s port advancement because she thought it would hurt the Port of Charleston, said she would, instead, do what’s “right for the region.”
The Army Corps of Engineers, the GPA and the DHEC resolved all outstanding environmental issues after Haley met with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal over the issue.
Georgia’s victory didn’t come cheaply: at least $60 million will be added to the estimated $650 million deepening cost to satisfy South Carolina’s latest environmental demands. The agreement calls for the Corps, or Georgia if the U.S. government won’t fund it, to pay an additional $1.2 million a year for 50 years to ensure enough oxygen is pumped into the river to prevent summertime fish kills.
“This is a big step forward regardless of whatever bumps arise in the future,” said GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz after the DHEC vote. “It’s great to see the states work together. There’s no doubt the region needs all the port capacity it can get. We all wanted to move this forward and not fight each other.”