Originally created 05/11/00

Group approves dry docks



BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- The Georgia Shore Protection and Coastal Marshland Protection committees gave conditional approval yesterday to locating two floating dry docks in the Brunswick River.

One of the conditions, an easement on the state-owned river bottom, cannot be met until the General Assembly convenes in January.

Braswell Services Group, located in Charleston, S.C., wants to build 122,000 square feet of dock and dredge 42 acres of river bottom to a depth of 55 feet to accommodate two floating dry docks. Tom Feagin, Braswell's chief financial officer, said the facility would employ 150 crafts workers and 30 supervisors in the repair of commercial vessels at property it owns just upstream from the Sidney Lanier Bridge.

In recommending that the committees, both of which have the same three members, approve Braswell's request, Stuart Stevens, head of Ecological Services for the state Environmental Protection Division, raised a legislative hurdle. In most cases, Mr. Stevens' office would issue a revocable license for such projects, but not this time.

Because its plans are so big, Braswell should secure its easement to use the river through legislative action, Mr. Stevens said. Braswell wants to move an estimated 1.1 million cubic yards of sediment, mud and perhaps stone to lower the river bottom from an average 22 feet to 55 feet. A huge rectangular hole is needed to accommodate two floating dry docks, both 150 feet wide but one 600 feet long and the other 700 feet long. The company would also have to deepen to 36 feet a 600-foot-long area to allow ships to pass from the shipping channel to its docks. In all, the company would dredge 42 acres of river bottom.

Legislative approval of all that may not be the least of Braswell's troubles.

Daniel Parshley, project manager for the grass-roots organization Glynn Environmental Coalition, raised the issue of asbestos. When Liberty Ships were built on the site during World War II, workers may have disposed of asbestos in the water, he said.

Although asbestos poses no threat beneath the water, it could become one if dredged and dumped onto nearby Andrews Island, which serves as the spoils site for harbor dredging projects, Mr. Parshley said. Once it dried, the asbestos could become an airborne risk, he said.

Phil Overton, executive director of the Brunswick-Glynn County Development Authority, said the agency has given Braswell permission to dispose of the mud on 300 acres it owns on Andrews Island.

Mr. Parshley proposed confining the dredged mud there in a way that would keep it out of the environment.

The two members of the committees who attended yesterday's meeting, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Lonice C. Barrett and Skidaway Institute of Oceanography faculty member Clark Alexander, quickly reached an agreement on the issue of asbestos.

Mr. Alexander wanted more testing done, but he went along with Mr. Barrett's suggestion that the EPD should resolve whether the tests are warranted.

Even if the company did not have to wait for legislative approval, Braswell still has plenty of bureaucratic hoops to pass through. The company must still secure permits from Glynn County, Clean Water Act permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge in navigable waters.

Mr. Feagin said he had expected all those requirements but was surprised that he will have to wait until January for the Legislature to act.

"I would like to start earlier than that," he said, but then acknowledged, "It took five years to get this far."

Braswell had wanted to open a facility at the site in 1995 to repair military vessels, but the Navy kept pulling back its proposed contract for changes.