COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s top environmental board declined Thursday morning to hear an appeal by the Georgia Ports Authority and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of a move to limit the deepening of the Savannah River for a Georgia port project.
Earlier this month a group representing South Carolina’s interests in the river agreed to parameters on the dredging project, saying they would save money and protect wildlife. Among the recommendations approved by the Savannah River Maritime Commission on May 8 is to limit the deepening to 45 feet.
The Georgia Ports Authority and the corps appealed the commission’s decision to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board.
But board members unanimously voted Thursday that they shouldn’t hear the appeal.
“It would be my opinion that we do not have the authority to hear this (appeal),” board chairman Allen Amsler said.
Georgia has proposed going beyond South Carolina’s recommended limit, to 47 feet. Georgia’s goal is to ensure its Port of Savannah can accommodate the huge containerships that are expected to become more common along the East Coast when an expansion the Panama Canal is completed in about three years.
Charleston is seeking to deepen its shipping channel to 50 feet from 45 feet for the same reason.
The DHEC board last year controversially granted a water quality permit to Georgia for its $600 million deepening project.
The Maritime Commission and environmental groups wary of the impact of the project contend DHEC didn’t have the authority to approve the permit, and have sued.
They argue lawmakers several years ago reserved the right to make river dredging decisions to the Maritime Commission.
The commission and the groups are set to argue their case against DHEC before the S.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Read more in tomorrow’s Post and Courier. Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter at 864-641-8172.