Last week, the SCDHEC (South Carolina Department of Health and Environmentl Control) reversed its earlier decision and approved a permit to allow the Corps of Engineers to dredge the Savannah River and open the river channel to the Port of Savannah to allow the larger “New Panamax” ships to reach the port.
Today, the SRMC (Savannah River Maritime Commission), which was created by the SC legislature to deal with port issues, is challenging the approval. The Maritime Commission claims that the DHEC doesn’t have sole authority to grant the water quality waiver that it issued last week.
DHEC board members and staff “overstepped their boundaries in issuing the permit,” said state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, a member of the Maritime Commission. “We took action to undo the DHEC damages.”
The Maritime Commission vote declared the permit was issued improperly and has no effect as law. The commission also voted to ask S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson to weigh in on which agency has the authority to negotiate with Georgia.
Neither the Maritime Commission nor the S.C. Department of Natural Resources were part of DHEC’s negotiations Thursday with the Corps and Georgia. The Maritime Commission was created specifically to represent South Carolina in “matters pertaining to the navigability, depth, dredging, wastewater and sludge disposal and related collateral issues in regard to the use of the Savannah River as a waterway for ocean-going container or commerce vessels.”
Questions of political influence are sure to surface. Gov. Nikki Haley appointed all the members of the DHEC, but only 4 of 12 members of the Maritime Commission.
But this isn’t a case of leftist envirowackos trying to protect the environment at the expense of jobs; it’s South Carolina Republicans fighting other South Carolina Republicans over protecting South Carolina economic development against Georgia’s development of the Port of Savannah.
Grooms and others think DHEC’s actions could doom the chances of a proposed port on the Savannah River in Jasper County and hurt business at the Port of Charleston.
“When our state agency favors Georgia over South Carolina, that’s troubling,” Grooms said. “I’d rather South Carolina be the big winner than Georgia.”