Groups object to dredging river

The effects of dredging the Savannah River to accommodate shipments of reactor components for Plant Vogtle's proposed expansion must be explored before permits for the project can be considered.


In a Friday ruling, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety & Licensing Board sided with environmental groups that contend the dredging would have significant impact that was not addressed in earlier studies.

"This ruling reminds us that certain new power plant proposals are not just costly to our pocketbooks but are costly to the water resources upon which our economy, residents and the environment rely," said Sara Barczak, the program director with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, one of the intervening organizations.

Southern Nuclear Operating Co. , which has applied for permits to add two reactors to the plant, has notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that river channel dredging will be needed to allow barges to move equipment and parts to the site 116 miles upstream from Savannah, Ga .

Ms. Barczak's group argued that numerous environmental consequences from such dredging were ignored when the applicant's Environmental Impact Statement was prepared and evaluated.

The groups said , among other things, that barge traffic on the lower river would require the release of huge volumes of water from Thurmond Lake upstream, which is suffering from near-record drought.

The corps dredged and maintained a shipping channel from Savannah to Augusta for many decades, but maintenance ended in 1979 .

"The Savannah River has not been used for navigation in three decades," Ms. Barczak said in a Tuesday news release. "In fact, the corps has allowed the river to begin recovering from the past uses and abuses. Starting commercial navigation would reverse years of the corps' environmental stewardship and collaboration."

Dredging, she said, could also stir up contaminated, toxic and even radioactive sediment that could affect water users, aquatic habitat and sport fisheries for striped bass and American shad.

Southern Nuclear argued that such effects were beyond the licensing board's scope of authority, but the board disagreed, saying the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued in August must be revised.

Southern Nuclear spokeswoman Alyson Fuqua said the need to explore the dredging issue is not expected to affect the company's timetable in seeking permits to move forward with the project.

The board will schedule a hearing next March to discuss the impact of barging.


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The U.S. Atomic Safety & Licensing Board will schedule a hearing in March, either in Augusta or Waynesboro, Ga., to discuss the environmental impact of barging.