COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s environmental board voted unanimously this morning not to hear objections from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Georgia Ports Authority to a separate South Carolina panel’s efforts to restrict the Savannah harbor deepening.
By conference call, following an approximately 20-minute closed session, board members for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control issued their decision. Among their reasons: The Savannah River Maritime Commission’s May 8 Notice of Proposed Decision and its various terms and conditions were not a DHEC staff endeavor.
“Clearly, the issue about that is the jurisdiction … an active open case working through the legal system right now. So who has the jurisdiction certainly is up for question right now,” said DHEC board member Mark Lutz, who represents the 1st Congressional District.
The corps and the GPA argue that the Savannah River Maritime Commission, a panel created by the S.C. Legislature in 2007, had no authority to impose its own terms and conditions on Georgia’s $653 million harbor deepening. They had asked the DHEC board to invalidate the Maritime Commission’s May 8 notice, which includes limiting the deepening to 45 feet from its current 42 feet, instead of allowing it to be deepened to 47 feet, which is the depth the corps recommended.
The corps appealed to DHEC on May 23 in order to maintain its legal standing before the body while waiting for the S.C. Supreme Court to resolve a lawsuit filed by the Savannah Riverkeeper, the Maritime Commission and others against DHEC, said the corps’ Savannah District spokesman Billy Birdwell on Wednesday morning.
It was not immediately known after DHEC’s decision today what the two appellants’ next move will be.
Both the GPA and the corps noted that they are also petitioning for a contested case hearing before the South Carolina Administrative Law Court.
In the South Carolina Supreme Court conflict, the environmental groups argue the DHEC board usurped the powers of the Maritime Commission in November when the board granted the corps permits for water quality and construction in navigable waters.
That suit is one of several legal and legislative strikes and counter-strikes centered around what some consider to be Georgia’s key current public works project.