Highlights from the past week in the local business world:

Dredging debate deepens: Two top Republican lawmakers, both from Charleston, blasted a state agency's decision to allow the Georgia Ports Authority to dredge the Savannah River to its Garden City Terminal. State Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell called it "the worst economic, environmental decision that I've seen in the 32 years that I've been here in Columbia." He added that the approval would kill plans for a port on the South Carolina side of the waterway in nearby Jasper County. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has decided to permit Georgia to deepen the river to 48 feet up to its Savannah shipping terminal. Critics say one issue is that the mega-ships of the future will require at least 50 feet. Gov. Nikki Haley said she stands by its action. Lawmakers previously have passed resolutions opposing the river dredging, but Rep. Jim Merrill suggested the issue will resurface in the 2012 session. "I think there are outside-the-box ways for us to revisit this and address the situation," he said.

It's up to you: When times are hard, local attractions turn on creativity to lure visitors. For the first time, Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant allowed visitors to pay what they could this past weekend. It's a promotion some local theater companies have used as well. For example, Pure Theatre last week offered a pay-what-you-can preview of its latest performance, and Charleston Stage allows patrons to pay what they can on the second Wednesday of each performance. The next one is Feb. 15.

Loan litigation: A barrage of lawsuits that S.C. prosecutors filed against LendingTree has yielded a $3 million settlement with the online mortgage broker. More than $400,000 will go to Charleston and Berkeley counties, said Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson. She and 15 other South Carolina prosecutors separately sued LendingTree in 2008, saying it failed to make the required disclosures for mortgage brokers that operate in the state. LendingTree, which denied the allegations and filed a countersuit, did not admit any liability. It also said there were no findings of wrongdoing. "LendingTree and the solicitors settled to avoid expensive litigation," the company said.

Strong headwinds: Legal experts said the unfair labor practice charge filed by three Boeing South Carolina workers against the International Association of Machinists will be difficult to prove and is unlikely to gain the same traction as the union's claims against Boeing last year. The employees alleged the Machinists brought its original complaint, which led to a high-profile and recently settled National Labor Relations Board lawsuit, to discourage companies from creating jobs in right-to-work states such as South Carolina. Labor experts said the local workers' concerns have some basis, but, for political and legal reasons, they don't stand much of a chance.

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