A proposed settlement that adds $43.5 million in environment-protection programs for the Savannah Harbor deepening includes new monitoring and research opportunities near Augusta – and a commitment to help the city meet federal relicensing requirements for its hydropower canal.
The agreement would end litigation brought by the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Savannah Riverkeeper, South Carolina Wildlife Federation, Savannah River Maritime Commission and South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control over claims the $652 million harbor dredging needed additional measures to protect the environment.
The harbor expansion’s environmental projects already included a $32.2 million fish passage structure at New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam below Augusta, along with downstream projects such as an oxygen injection system to compensate for water quality changes.
Under the settlement announced last week, Georgia Ports Authority will contribute $12.5 million for environmental and conservation programs within the Savannah River Basin, with a priority on restoration projects designed to improve the river’s flow and water quality.
The fund would be managed by a Savannah River Restoration Board, with representatives of Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division and Department of Natural Resources, Savannah Riverkeeper and various South Carolina conservation groups and state agencies.
The ports authority agreed to work with the city of Augusta to help meet responsibilities arising from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing of the Augusta Canal. The relicensing will include minimum flows in the Augusta shoals, especially in droughts and warm-weather months.
New environmental measures include:
• $3 million for water quality monitoring and other initiatives;
• $3 million to the South Carolina DNR for monitoring and research of shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon and their habitat;
• $5 million to the South Carolina Conservation Bank for preservation of wetlands, acquisition of conservation easements and upland buffers that benefit the river;
• $5 million to South Carolina DNR for wetlands creation, restoration or enhancement; and
• $5 million to Ducks Unlimited’s Wetlands America Trust for wetlands and upland buffer preservation.