COLUMBIA -- Calling Georgia a “sister state,” Gov. Nikki Haley defended actions Monday that support Georgia’s Savannah Harbor deepening plans.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal had requested Haley ask a state board to hear an appeal by the Army Corps of Engineers, which was seeking a permit as part of Georgia’s $600 million dredging project. On Nov. 10, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board heard the appeal and awarded the permit.
South Carolina lawmakers protested the decision and warned that it would hurt their state’s competitiveness and prospects for a bi-state Jasper Ocean Terminal. A separate panel, the S.C. Savannah River Maritime Commission, announced plans to challenge the DHEC board’s decision in court.
On Monday Haley called the outcry “political rhetoric.”
“Georgia is a sister state,” she said. “Is there anything they can do? Absolutely. Will I be asking? Absolutely. ... I would expect (Deal) to give me the same courtesies that I gave to him, the courtesy of allowing them to come and sit in front of our board.”
She said South Carolina must focus on preparing the Port of Charleston for ships coming in 2014 and that she has been speaking with South Carolina’s senior U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham about the funding needs.
“Sen. Graham has made it very clear that there is no way that he could get the funding if he had two Georgia senators fighting,” she said.
Haley also addressed an often-referenced comment that she had made to the Propeller Club in Charleston soon after winning the gubernatorial election last November.
“Georgia has had their way with us for way too long, and I don’t have the patience to let it happen anymore,” Haley had said, during the Charleston address about a year ago.
Critics have accused the first-term Republican governor of being influenced by Georgia campaign donors, following an Oct. 28 fundraiser in Atlanta. On Monday Haley said the event had been scheduled months in advance and had not been a factor in her position.
A list of donors provided by campaign contact Marisa Crawford on Monday include: Microsoft, Kathlynn Polvino and Stephen Sorett, both attorneys at law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge, Alan Moore who does government relations for the law firm, as well as the firm’s political action committee, Mark Burkhalter Realty, Fred Cooper of Cooper Capital, United Healthcare, Sunovion, Allergan, Robert Sheft who is associated with a flooring company.
But Haley said there were no ties to the ports, stressing on Monday that her positions have been consistent.
Indeed, on Feb. 23, the governor’s spokesman Rob Godfrey said in an e-mail to reporters that Haley’s comment from the Charleston address was not directed at Georgia’s harbor dredging plans. Godfrey said she simply meant that she was focused on the Port of Charleston’s deepening plans, and that Haley was not content to allow the Savannah Harbor to continue to surpass the Port of Charleston in economic activity.
Haley’s press conference occurred a day before the S.C. Senate Medical Affairs Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing to gather information about the DHEC board’s Nov. 10 decision to approve the agency staff’s recommendation to grant the water quality certification. The permit is one step toward deepening about 35 miles of the Savannah River from 42 feet to 48 feet in preparation for larger ships traveling through the expanded Panama Canal in 2014.
Haley has refused to testify before the committee, citing the need to preserve the separation of powers.
The corps has said the permit is not necessary for them to complete the $600 million deepening project, but instead part of the preferred process that includes South Carolina’s cooperation.
The members of the DHEC board were appointed by Haley.
The DHEC staff had recommended on Sept. 30 that the corps’ permit be denied. They reversed their recommendation shortly before presenting it to the DHEC board on Nov. 10, after securing additional concessions from Georgia officials, such as a funding guarantee to maintain an oxygenation system, and a promise to preserve an additional 1,690 acres of salt marsh.
“I know it’s unfortunate in this political world everybody likes to think there’s something behind everything. There’s nothing here,” said Haley. “And what you have is a DHEC board that did their job. What you have is a governor who gave courtesy to another governor to have a hearing, and that’s basically it.”