Corps Seeks Exemption from Savannah Approval
BY DAVID MURRAY
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has asked Congress to give it a formal exemption from the need to get permit approval from South Carolina to dredge Savannah Harbor.
The Corps has claimed it already has the sovereign immunity it needs to proceed in spite of “inappropriate delays” caused by state interests or opposition and does not need state approval; but a formal Congressional declaration might enable it to avoid or shorten court fights from three lawsuits filed by environmental opponents of the dredging project in South Carolina courts. One is now before the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Jo-Ellen Darcy assistant secretary of the Army for civil works sent the letter requesting a formal exemption to Sen. Barbara Boxer who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
The request would be a difficult one for Boxer to refuse since President Obama has named the Savannah Harbor dredging as one of the first among dozens of national infrastructure projects in his “We Can’t Wait” initiative that are targeted for fast-track treatment. That speedup includes having all permits and approvals completed by November.
Darcy signed the Corps’ own final approval called a Record of Decision on October 28 just ahead of its expected November signing and six months after the Corps’ final report recommending the project. The Corps estimates the benefit to cost ratio of the project at 5.5:1 with net annual benefits estimated at $174 million. Completion is estimated at 2016.
Curtis Foltz executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority said “We couldn’t be more excited to have a Record of Decision. This is something a lot of people have worked very hard on for the last 15 years. The fact that the announcement came earlier than expected is evidence of how critical this project is to advancing commerce and the economic health of the nation.”
The dredging designed to get Savannah ready for post-Panamax sized vessels has strong support from business and political leaders in Georgia and was supported by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Haley’s position that the Corps didn’t need the state’s approval anyway cut no ice with her political enemies.
South Carolina lawmakers have bitterly opposed the project as undercutting South Carolina’s plans to dredge another port further downriver and environmentalists have joined them in opposing provisions of the plan that call for dredged materials to be stored on the South Carolina side of the river.