Corps of Engineers should follow the law on Savannah River dredging proposal
The Clean Water Act has presented some problems for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in its quest to deepen the Savannah River. So instead of addressing the problems, the Corps wants permission to ignore it.
Thatís not the way it works, and the state congressional delegation should make certain it doesnít happen.
The law dictates that the Corps cannot move forward with the Savannah dredging project unless South Carolina agrees it will not harm water quality. Thatís reasonable. South Carolina and Georgia both border the Savannah River, and both should have a say in what goes on there.
The Georgia office of the Corps of Engineers was moving forward with the project, thinking it had the necessary approval from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. But the state Supreme Court recently said no. The DHEC board process that appeared to provide that consent was flawed.
So fearing long delays in the ongoing quest for approval, the Corps now has requested that Congress exempt them from the environmental law.
That is unacceptable. If plans, as the Corps says, will not be an environmental problem, the Corps should have no problem making its case to the S.C. Maritime Commission, which is charged with making such decisions.
If water quality would indeed suffer, the law rightfully arms South Carolina to prevent it from happening.
Our delegation should recognize that the Corpsí attempts to circumvent the law are unwise and undercut South Carolinaís rightful authority.
By most reckonings, this issue will not be resolved easily or quickly.
So U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel last week ordered the Corps, the S.C. Maritime Commission and environmentalists to work things out, with John Spratt as mediator.
Mr. Spratt, who represented South Carolinaís 5th District in the U.S. House from 1983-2011, has his work cut out for him. The Maritime Commission in May approved a modified plan ó dredging from 42 to 45 feet instead of 47. Beyond 45 feet, the commission thinks the worst environmental problems would occur.
But Georgia port officials donít like that idea. They want to dredge to 47 feet.
And itís going to take some serious science to convince environmentalists that the dredging plan wonít harm the river, which is already oxygen-poor, and the marine life it barely supports.
The plan calls for mitigating damage by installing large bubblers in the river, similar to those in aquariums, to inject oxygen into the river. The science has not been tested for such a large project.
The project is intended to deepen the Savannah River shipping channel so that larger container ships can call there. The S.C. State Ports Authority wants to deepen Charleston Harborís channel from 45 to 50 feet for the same reason.
And while there are justified concerns about whether Georgiaís project would hurt South Carolinaís chances of getting necessary federal approval, the question on the table now is likely environmental damage.
Sorting that out, lawfully and honestly, should be the goal.