In particular, the Palmetto State agency argues the $32 million fish bypass to be constructed across from Augusta isn’t an apples-to-apples remedy for habitat destruction resulting from the Georgia Ports Authority’s harbor expansion.
Last month the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final environmental impact statement on the $653 million harbor deepening project. Among the new details was a re-designed fish bypass -- with a quadrupled price tag -- intended to allow the shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon to migrate upstream.
But S.C. DNR environmental programs director Bob Perry says his agency’s objections remain -- that the proposed measures will open up new spawning habitat, but not estuarine habitat, which is the category that will be damaged.
“The deepening of the river is going to impact hundreds of acres of shortnose sturgeon estuarine habitat down in the lower part of the river where the ocean is meeting the river,” he said. “Normally, if it’s in-kind mitigation, you figure out how you mitigate where the impacts are. But you can’t create marsh. You can’t create new estuary. Only the good Lord can do that.”
In short, the South Carolina environmental official said: “It’s an oranges-to-apples remedy. We’re going to have oranges.”
But despite the DNR’s concerns, the redesigned bypass came about after the corps received guidance from federal officials.
“It will carry most of the river around the dam in most circumstances,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official David Berhart told the Savannah Morning News last month. “We have a lot more confidence it will be usable by sturgeon, both shortnose and Atlantic.”
Nevertheless, Perry said the increased environmental monitoring that was also proposed, along with the deluxe fish bypass, aren’t allaying the state agency’s fears. S.C. DNR will detail those among a slew of other concerns in its agency comments submitted to the corps by June 5.
Perry said the S.C. DNR knows about fish bypasses, thanks to working with utilities and their hydropower structures in the last dozen years.
“That’s really where our experience rests, because we’ve been involved in 25 hydropower projects in South Carolina,” said Perry.
“What we’ve learned is (that) it’s almost impossible to pass short nose sturgeon safely and effectively.”
Georgia is planning to deepen about 38 miles of the Savannah River and harbor from 42 feet to 47 feet in preparation for larger container vessels coming through the Panama Canal after its expansion in 2014.
Meanwhile, sturgeon may not be the only ones who are difficult to manipulate.
Perry also predicted the upgraded bypass could require an eminent domain taking action on the South Carolina property owners at the site of the bypass near the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam in Augusta.