Savannah harbor deepening settlement reached

Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011 2:08 PM
Last updated 8:09 PM
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COLUMBIA — Georgia and South Carolina have reached a deal on how to move forward with an environmental permit to deepen the Savannah Harbor, one that requires Georgia to financially guarantee an annual $1.2 million maintenance measure in the event Congress fails to appropriate the amount.

A second key change approved by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Board Thursday addressed the agency staff’s concern about the deepening project’s potential damage to wetlands.

Under Thursday’s settlement, Georgia officials have offered to preserve additional saltwater marshland in South Carolina using a credit system. The land that is expected to be preserved is owned by Georgia but located in South Carolina’s Jasper County. It is not located on the 1,500-acre site that has been designated for the proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal.

Thursday’s hearing was intended to allow the DHEC Board to vote on whether to toss out the South Carolina agency’s Sept. 30 recommendation to deny the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ request for a water quality permit for the harbor deepening. But last-minute negotiations Thursday morning between officials from both states yielded the settlement that was ultimately approved by the DHEC Board.

“There were some difference of opinions on some final pieces, but we were able to come together,” said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz after the vote.

“At the end of the day we were happy to do it because it was the right thing to do.”

During the meeting, DHEC attorney John Harleston laid out the settlement proposal to the board and praised Georgia officials for their role.

“The state of Georgia has done a fine job coming forward at this hour and helping out to reach this resolution,” said Harleston. “The river has been the fence between two neighboring states. It may sound a little corny, but good fences make good neighbors.”

The conflict is not over, however.

The S.C. Coastal Conservation League, which has warned that the $600 million deepening project will significantly harm the environment, plans to appeal the agreement to the S.C. Administrative Law Court, arguing in part that the the proposed oxygenation system has not been proved to be effective.

Part of the Board’s approval of the settlement was tied to a related hurdle that fell Wednesday. The the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service announced that the Corps’ plan was “not likely to jeopardize” the endangered shortnose sturgeon.

In February the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’s Environmental Protection Division issued its own water quality certification.

The harbor project, if approved, would also finance a $7 million fish passage structure at New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam near Augusta - and provide more funding for Georgia’s striped bass stocking program.

Both projects were among mitigation measures proposed by the corps to compensate for habitat loss the deepening could cause in coastal estuaries.

The 73-year-old New Savannah Bluff dam was earmarked for demolition after a 1999 corps study concluded it was no longer needed to support commercial shipping - for which it was built in 1937.

Local governments later agreed to adopt the structure if it is restored at federal expense. So far, however, Congress has not provided the $22 million needed to renovate the dam and add fish passage.

The harbor mitigation package would finance only the fish structure - a horseshoe-shaped, 75-foot-wide ramp with 9-inch ledges that would allow fish to bypass the dam and move upstream. Funds for the rest of the repairs would still be needed.

Staff Writer Rob Pavey contributed to this story

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Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 11/10/11 - 03:39 pm
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Sarita Chourey wrote: The

Sarita Chourey wrote:

The S.C. Coastal Conservation League, which has warned that the $600 million deepening project will significantly harm the environment, plans to appeal the agreement to the S.C. Administrative Law Court, arguing in part that the the proposed oxygenation system has not been proved to be effective.

Of course not. Such a project has never been tried before. There is no way to prove such a thing before building it and trying it. The scope is too big. The thing works in theory, and the thing works in an aquarium. But no one can build an experiment that would prove or disprove the scheme on a scale that can rival the mouth of the Savannah.

Let's face it. Mankind could not prove that a manned spaceship could fly to the moon and return safely. Some things you've just got to try.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 11/10/11 - 03:45 pm
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I wish that Sarita Chourey or

I wish that Sarita Chourey or Rob Pavey or some other intrepid reporter would tell us all about the proposed oxygenation system at Savannah Harbor. We have heard they would put porous piping near the bottom and pump air though the pipes to bubble up to the river surface in order to allow more oxygen to enter the water at depth.

But one thing I want to know is where the air compressors would get their energy. From shoreside diesel motors? From Georgia Power's energy grid? From SCE&G's energy grid? From solar panels? My thinking is that we will be spending a lot of fossil fuel and sending a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to oxygenate this tiny stretch of the Savannah. And there's no evidence that the bottom of the Savannah River at the proposed harbor really even needs more oxygen. It's an environmentalist's want, not a need.

bill.waters
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bill.waters 11/10/11 - 04:32 pm
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Will there be sufficient

Will there be sufficient water flow in the Savannah River when Atlanta receives permission for their inter-basin water transfers? There may not be (tongue-in-cheek) enough water to "float their boat."

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 11/10/11 - 05:24 pm
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There will be sufficient flow

There will be sufficient flow for the necessities. There might not always be enough flow for every pie-in-the-sky scheme that people might dream up.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 11/10/11 - 09:17 pm
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Didn't they install an

Didn't they install an oxygenation system at one of the dams on the Savannah already? Seems I recall about one being installed at the Richard Russell Dam, some years back. Correct me if I'm wrong!

Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/11/11 - 02:40 am
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Slightly off topic, but with

Slightly off topic, but with the flood of 1990 Thurmond Lake filled up and there were questions about the integrity of the dam. Supposedly plans to blow the sides and allow water to flow around the dam were discussed. There is a reason to keep Thurmond Lake at average pool and not full pool for instances just like that.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 11/11/11 - 11:41 am
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I vaguely remember something

I vaguely remember something about that, Sarge. I thought it had to do with fish kills when they started up a power generator after being off line for a while. The stagnant, de-oxygenated water would be released below the river level at the dam and kill unsuspecting fish. I think they just modified the turbines to churn in some air as they were spinning. If that's what it was, then it consumed no fossil fuel power, instead merely sucked up some locally-generated hydropower.

What they propose at the harbor will require air compressors, thus generating greenhouse gases from fossil fuels.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/11/11 - 11:43 am
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There were two different

There were two different oxygenation projects at Thurmond Lake. One is the aerators in the dam that increase the oxygen level in the Columbia County portion of the river. The second was pumping oxygen directly into the lake to increase its oxygenation. 11:11

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