OK, folks, this is yet another small drama interrupting the timeline that’s likely to end with eventual completion of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, a $652 million plan to dredge the Savannah River from 42 to 47 feet to accommodate larger ships that will be using the expanded Panama Canal beginning in 2014.
Many South Carolinians have objected to the dredging plans. Those objections generally fit into one of three categories:
1) Those who think a deeper Savannah port will hurt business for Charleston’s port.
2) Those who fear that a depth of only 47′ will make it impossible to build the long-proposed Jasper Port, which some think would need a depth of 50′ to be viable.
3) Those who see the considerable environmental costs and uncertainties as genuinely dangerous to South Carolina’s interests.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control violated state law in approving a water quality permit for the $650 million deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The justices agreed with environmental groups that had sued, arguing that the South Carolina Maritime Commission, not the environmental agency, has the authority to decide matters involving the river. The required state certification under the federal Clean Water Act has been the subject of a year of political debate in South Carolina. [...]
The justices wrote that the plain language of state law gives the Maritime Commission “the responsibility and exclusive authority to represent South Carolina in all matters pertaining to or collaterally related to dredging in the Savannah River.”
It’s widely considered in S.C. political circles that Governor Haley stacked the deck at the DHEC to approve the permit in the first place.
The Army Corps of Engineers is trying to move ahead with the project without South Carolina approval.