CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Savannah River Maritime Commission, the state agency overseeing South Carolina’s interests on the river, approved an agreement Wednesday settling a lawsuit over a $5 billion terminal that the state is working to build with Georgia.
The agreement settles one of nine legal actions the commission is involved in concerning port development on the river dividing the two states.
The panel approved a memorandum of understanding with the three South Carolina members on the board of the Jasper Ocean Terminal Joint Project Office, which is made up of representatives from both states.
In the agreement, both the commission and the South Carolina board members agree to discuss issues concerning the port development before the board members vote.
Commission Chairman Dean Moss said the agreement ends a lawsuit the commission brought in state court earlier this year. A state judge granted the commission a temporary injunction blocking the South Carolina members from taking action or voting on matters that are under the commission’s authority.
The order from Circuit Judge Deadra Jefferson forbade the South Carolina members of the terminal board from speaking for South Carolina on matters pertaining to the planned port “without prior express permission or consent from the commission.”
The two states have been working to develop a joint container ship terminal on the South Carolina side of the river just downstream from Savannah.
The Maritime Commission is also a party to lawsuits in federal court, state court and the state’s administrative law courts over U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans for a $650 million deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel.
Georgia maritime officials want the river deepened so the state’s existing port can handle the larger container ships that are expected to routinely call when the Panama Canal is enlarged in 2014.
A federal judge this week agreed to allow the Maritime Commission, as well as the Georgia Ports Authority, to take part in a case brought by environmental groups. The plaintiffs say the project needs a South Carolina pollution permit because the dredging will remove silt containing cadmium from the river and deposit it on the South Carolina side.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel on Wednesday appointed former U.S. Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina to mediate the dispute. But that has Moss puzzled.
“We’re trying to figure out what that means,” he said. “You either need a permit or you don’t. It doesn’t seem to me it’s something that is amenable to negotiation.”