Mediation in dredging suit delayed

Former U.S. Rep John Spratt (AP/The Herald/File)

Settlement talks involving attorneys in a federal lawsuit over the $650 million deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel have been delayed.

Attorneys were to have started two days of mediation in Charleston on Thursday aimed at settling the suit.

But a court order said those sessions have been delayed after consulting with the attorneys. No reason was given for the delay, and no new date had been set.

Former U.S. Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina has been appointed to mediate the lawsuit.

Environmentalists say the deepening work needs a South Carolina pollution permit because it will mean toxic cadmium will be dredged from the river and deposited on the South Carolina shore.

The Georgia Ports Authority wants the river deepened to handle larger container ships.

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Also last week, the head of the S.C. State Ports Authority says that while Savannah and other South Atlantic ports are racing to deepen their harbors Charleston has an advantage before those projects are done.

Jim Newsome said in his fourth annual State of the Port address in Charleston on Thursday that the deepening projects won’t be done for five or six years.

He says that in the meantime the Port of Charleston has a deeper harbor now than Wilmington, Savannah and Jacksonville.

Newsome says shipping lines aren’t going to wait to deploy larger container ships that will be able to move through an expanded Panama Canal. He says Charleston already can handle such freighters more easily than other ports, although all have tidal restrictions on when the heavy vessels enter harbors.