The South Carolina Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to rebuke Gov. Nikki Haley for allowing environmental regulators to approve a Savannah River dredging permit that will enable the Port of Savannah to grow at the expense of Charleston's port.
The Senate also approved a resolution passed unanimously by the S.C. House last week that would suspend the authority of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's ability to make dredging decisions, as of 2007. That's when legislators created the Savannah River Maritime Commission and gave the agency authority to represent the state on navigation issues in the river shared with Georgia.
The move rekindles tensions between the two states over their flagship ports. Charleston has lost business to Savannah in recent years as the Georgia port became the second-largest East Coast port by attracting major distribution centers and improving rail connections.
The Senate resolution specifically suspends DHEC’s November decision, which it took at the behest of Gov. Haley, to overturn the agency’s prior objections and grant a key environmental permit related to the Port of Savannah expansion project.
Savannah port executives don’t expect the joint resolution passed by South Carolina lawmakers to block the momentum of the Savannah River Harbor Expansion project, under which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will deepen the Savannah River ships channel to 48 feet from its existing 42 feet. The project will allow the port to handle larger ships able to pass through the expanded Panama Canal in late 2014.
“We’re pretty confident with the work that’s been done up to this point,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. “Between the Corps, the federal government and the national interest, we’re comfortable this project is going to stay on schedule.”
He said the port will meet in March with the heads of the Commerce and Interior Departments and the EPA, which have to approve SHEP, together with the Corps. “We expect that to proceed from there to a record of decision in late summer.”
Once the record of decision is completed, “the Corps will immediately enter into eight months of environmental preparations with money that the state has already ponied up,” Foltz said