Dredging of the Savannah River has been a major issue in Georgia which has received a lot of opposition form South Carolina as well as environmentalists. The issues arising from the litigation charges are a bit complex and this essay discusses on the issue, explaining clearly its origin of the project and its impact to the both on the macro and micro level in the society. It also describes the actions that the federal government has taken to handle this issue, the current nature of the project and the recommendations made on the future of the project.
Origin and background
The Georgia Ports Authority and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division have been pushing to deepen the Savannah Harbor. The port authority wants the harbor deepened so that it can maintain larger container ships such as the 9,200- TEU MSC Roma, which will be routinely passing with the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2014. This is to be done by expanding the harbor from 42 feet to 48 feet, which is approximately 36 miles with an estimated cost of more than 600 million dollars (Ports, 2010).
The Savannah River has long been supporting the region economically and deepening the harbor could be very advantageous to the economy of Georgia. However, this plan poses an ethical dilemma among the official and has outraged environmentalists who claim that dredging the harbor is harmful to the environment. The Savannah River is shared between Georgia and South Carolina and critics of the project say that dredging would harm not only the environment but also the port of Charleston. Liana Orr who is an executive director at the Conservatives for Truth in Politics clearly states that dredging is an attack on the economy of South Carolina and its workers (Ports, 2010).
Impact of dredging Savannah River
Despite the great economic benefit that Georgia will gain from this project, it also brings a lot of harm to the environment. First, dredging of the Savannah River affects the freshwater wetlands of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge the project causes salt water levels to move upstream. Additionally, this fact proves that freshwater animals upstream will come to harm such as the federally protected short nose sturgeon (Palmer & Gross1979). The project could also affect the drinking water resources for City of Savannah. This will cause distress on the tax payers as they would have to foot the bill for movement of drinking water recourses as well as the 600 million dollar project.
Environmentalists argue that deepening the harbor further will affect its economic and natural viability. Toxic cadmium and other harmful pollutants will be discharged into the basin which will have toxic effects on humans and wildlife. Not only will it affect the people in Georgia but in South Carolina as well. The Southern Environmental Law Center says that this project will cause environmental harm to both Georgia and South Carolina but there will be limited economic benefit for the latter. The saltwater intrusion from the ocean will eventually result in dead zones in the river which will put the community’s ground water at risk.
Another negative impact of the dredging of the Savannah River is the depletion of the dissolved oxygen levels in the basin. Depletion of oxygen levels will lead to the use of Speece Cones which are respirators that provide mechanical life support. These respirators have been proven to have disastrous effects on aquatic life and therefore endangering the environment (Blanchfield, 2011). The low oxygen levels caused by the dredging have a ripple effect on the entire basin. This will have diverse effects on the industrial discharges and the lake communities upstream.
There is the question on the proposed Jasper Ocean terminal which is a plan being pursued by both South Carolina and Georgia to build a billion dollar port in Jasper County. In order for the port to be viable, a shipping channel of at least 50 feet should be available. Dredging the Savannah harbor has been seen to be a benefit to the Jasper project as it would save 300 million dollars in the building the terminal (Price, 1997).
The project has also brought up a number of lawsuits against it by Charleston Port in South Carolina and also by groups of environmentalists. The lawsuit was brought forward by the Southern Environmental Law Center South Carolina, South Carolina Wildlife Federation and the Coastal Conservation League. The lawsuit demands that the Army Corps have a pollution permit. Their motion stated that the Corps do not seek to be faithful stewards of the environment as implementers of the project but instead wants to avoid and ignore South Carolina’s sovereign right to protect their environment.
Actions taken by the government to deal with the project
The government has the responsibility to its people and especially to Georgia and South Carolina to maintain navigable waters. It also has the responsibility to ensure that environmental challenges are dealt with in order to safe guard the nation’s resources. The federal government conducted a thorough review on the dredging of the Savannah River in order to prove its economic viability. In October 2012, the government completed the project review showing that it proved its environmental sustainability and that the project has the best interest of the nation. The expansion of the basin has been projected to yield 5.50 dollars for every dollar invested and hence proves it economic advantage to the city as well as to the tax payers.
The federal government could put an end to the progress in expansion of the Savannah harbor due to its problems with South Carolina. The courts are trying to decide whether to issue a water quality approval permit so that the Georgia Ports Authority can continue with the project despite the environmental challenges it strings along. However, there is an exemption in the federal Clean Water Act that allows for an exemption. This exemption is that a dredging project can be approved if it is done to maintain navigation.
The South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the state’s approval to carry out with the expansion of the Savannah harbor saying that the state regulators did not have any authority whatsoever to negotiate with Georgia on the project. The Army Corps in Georgia implementing the project requested Congress to issue an environmental permit in South Carolina so that they can begin the dredging.
Current state of the project
Currently the Army Corps implementing the project is still facing lawsuits from environmental groups from both Georgia and South Carolina. However, it seems to be making progress in reaching a settlement. The legal challenges have caused a delay in the dredging of the Savannah and this proves to be advantageous to ports in South Carolina. Charleston harbor is currently 45 feet deep and this gives it a competitive advantage over other ports (Ports, 2010).
The government should ensure that the environmental consequences of the dredging of the Savannah are indeed sustainable and that the project is economically viable. All environmental concerns should be identified and the appropriate measures should be taken in order to minimize the effects of the dredging. A review should be conducted by all the appropriate stakeholders such as the environmentalists, the Corps, the different states and the government itself (Blanchfield, 2011).
A mediator should be appointed in order to solve the litigation issues between the environmentalists and the U.S Army Corps so that they can find a way forward for the project. This will save both sides unnecessary costs in dealing with the mitigation and will enable the sides to reach a memorandum of understanding.
Dredging of the Savannah River has been an issue on going for many years now and has been delayed due to its environmental hazards. The project has faced quite a number of legal challenges from environmentalist and has received a lot of attention especially in 2012. Despite the economic stability the dredging of the basin might bring, we believe that the project that greatly affects the natural viability of the river should be properly assessed and mitigated. Failure to comply with this belief will bring harm to the nation’s natural resources and will affect the economic viability of the resources in the long run.
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