State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, criticized a deal brokered Thursday between South Carolina and Georgia officials granting a permit needed to dredge and deepen the Savannah port.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control had denied the permit in connection with the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in late September, citing concerns about the impact on the river's health.
The terms of the agreement approved Thursday by DHEC say the river's health would be maintained through the installation of 12 devices called "Speece cones," which pump oxygen into the water for the benefit of aquatic creatures. The deal calls for either the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which helped develop the permit proposal, or the state of Georgia to pay for the installation, operation and maintenance of the devices for up to 50 years at an estimated cost of $1.2 million a year.
Georgia also agreed to pay for the protection of 1,500 acres of saltwater marsh in South Carolina and pledged to meet federal requirements to protect the endangered short-nosed sturgeon in the Savannah River.
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In a statement Thursday, Davis contended DHEC's decision was made without adequate input from the Savannah River Maritime Commission, an organization charged with overseeing South Carolina's commercial interests in the river.
"The maritime commission was created so that the State of South Carolina could speak with one unified voice ... yet the concerns it expressed to the DHEC board about (the Savannah project), in general, and the water quality permit, in particular, were ignored," Davis' statement read.
Davis also contends the decision affects the already tenuous future of the long-planned Jasper County port site farther upriver. He said it invites future tension between South Carolina and Georgia over the river's water supply.
"The Savannah River provides potable water for Beaufort County and the surrounding counties, as well as for other S.C. counties further up-river," the statement read.
"The city of Atlanta has made known its interest in tapping the Savannah River in the future to meet its ... water needs, and a water battle between the two states is looming."
Joey Holleman of The (Columbia) State contributed.
Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.