Three environmental groups – including Augusta-based Savannah Riverkeeper – contend in a lawsuit filed last week that the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to deepen Savannah Harbor could damage the environment and create adverse effects all the way upstream to Augusta.
The complaint, filed in Jasper County, S.C., by the state Wildlife Federation, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and Savannah Riverkeeper, seeks to halt the $600 million project over issues related to the corps’ issuance of a favorable water quality certification that would allow the controversial dredging project to move forward.
“Our contentions are that the certification was issued improperly and safeguards are not in place to ensure the economic viability of the entire Savannah River,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, the riverkeeper of Savannah Riverkeeper.
In particular, the groups question a component of the corps’ plan that includes a system to artificially inject oxygen into areas of the river where dredging and other activity might erode water quality.
If such a system fails to protect the environment, further efforts to restore water quality could place more restrictions on upstream stakeholders – including the city of Augusta and the many industries that rely on the river for wastewater dilution, she said. The corps also failed to acquire a South Carolina pollution control permit for the project, the plaintiffs contend.
“This project cannot proceed until and unless the Corps obtains a South Carolina Pollution Control Act permit that guarantees the right of citizens to review the proposal and reduce its serious impacts on the Savannah River,” said attorney Chris DeScherer, of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which filed the action.
A suit represents one side of a dispute.
“The corps has not received a copy of the lawsuit and generally does not comment on pending litigation,” said spokesman Billy Birdwell of the corps’ Savannah District office.