Harbor deepening back into the headlines with S.C.’s denial of key permit

A piece by Mary Landers in today’s Savannah Morning News: S.C. denies deepening permit

The second paragraph: “In a notice filed in the late afternoon and posted on its website, the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control denied the corps’ Water Quality Certification application for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.”

There are obviously a number of ways to view this news.

Maybe the experts in South Carolina really are concerned about the damage that could be done to water quality if the port is deepened by about six feet. In the piece, Georgia Ports Authority head Curtis Foltz notes that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division came to the opposite conclusion.

And after all this mess regarding the fish kill in the Ogeechee, I’m supposed to trust the Ga. EPD? Really?

Of course, it also seems possible that both of these decisions regarding water quality — both Georgia’s and South Carolina’s — are politically motivated. Georgia politicians want a deeper port, and South Carolina seems ready to push hard — maybe really hard — for a deeper port in Charleston.

Regular readers know that I’m a skeptic on harbor deepening since reading and reporting on the Corps of Engineers’ economic predictions: the number of containers handled by the port of Savannah will increase at the same rate either with or without deepening.

To put it in simple terms: If we deepen the harbor, we’ll see fewer but larger ships; if we don’t deepen it, we’ll get more but smaller ships. If we deepen the harbor, Savannah-bound ships can be more heavily loaded and will be less dependent on tides. Either way, according to the Corps, the landside capacity of the Savannah ports will max out in 2032.

With deepening, the added efficiencies of transportation are projected to save billions of dollars, that will be made available for other uses in the economy, according to the Corps.

People continue to talk about all the “additional cargo” that we’ll be getting if we deepen, but the Corps says we’ll get just as much without dredging. There’s no guarantee where the cost savings will go, either; they could primarily end up going to multinational corporations.

I have a bit more discussion about that and links to my Savannah Morning News column here.