The last environmental hurdle to the long-delayed Savannah River Harbor Expansion Project was cleared Wednesday when the South Carolina Savannah River Maritime Commission approved a settlement of the lawsuit it and three environmental groups had filed to block it.
Under the tentative settlement, the Georgia Ports Authority and other state entities will set aside $35.5 million to ensure that various environmental mitigation projects will be implemented when the Army Corps of Engineers begins deepening the Savannah River from 42 feet to 47 feet.
The GPA also will donate 2,000 acres of salt marsh to protect aquatic life on the river.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Army Corps still must approve the agreement.
The GPA will put some of the $35.5 million in escrow to ensure various environmental mitigation steps are completed and to donate some of the money directly to various conservation organizations for use in monitoring the project.
The tentative settlement also requires the Army Corps to establish monitoring stations along the river to measure water quality and check on the systems of injecting oxygen into the river water to make sure fish can survive in it.
The settlement grew out of a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the Maritime Commission, the DHEC and the three environmental groups, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Savannah Riverkeeper, and South Carolina Wildlife Federation.
The deepening is critical to the GPA’s ability to attract ships capable of carrying more than 8,000 20-foot-equivalent container units when the Panama Canal completes its lock-expansion project in 2015.