| CHARLESTON, S.C.
CHARLESTON, S.C. Aug 23 A $652 million
deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel has been
approved by the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
according to a report made public on Thursday.
Savannah, the fourth largest container port in the nation
according to the Department of Transportation, is among several
South Atlantic ports that want to deepen their shipping channels
for super-sized container ships expected to come through the
expanded Panama Canal starting in 2014.
In July, the Obama administration announced a "We Can't
Wait" initiative to fast-track the modernization of five East
Coast ports, at Jacksonville, Miami, Savannah, New York/New
Jersey and Charleston.
Miami has already received approval for the deepening of its
port and dredging is due to begin in early 2013. Charleston's
plans are still awaiting approval from the Corps of Engineers,
as well as funding from Congress.
The army's final decision on the Savannah project is
expected in November.
Actual dredging will take four to five years once it begins.
Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz has said
the entire project was expected to be finished by 2016, though
some officials say that is optimistic.
After adjusting for inflation, the Savannah River project's
cost is still 20 percent more than Congress has authorized, so
Congress will have to appropriate additional funds, according to
the report by Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, commander of the Corps.
Georgia's share of the cost would be $198 million.
About $311 million, or about 47 percent, of the project's
cost will be spent on environmental mitigation, including
building fish passageways, installation of a "bubbler" system to
boost oxygen levels and disposition of dredge spoil.
The Corps will remove 24 million cubic yards of sediment to
deepen the waterway from 42 to 47 feet. The sediment will be
deposited in existing upland containment areas and disposal
sites approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, the
A federal lawsuit by environmental groups to stop the
dredging argues that the sediment will contain hazardous cadmium
and dumping it on South Carolina shores will require a pollution
permit from the state.
Environmentalists are also concerned about the impact of
dissolved oxygen depletion in the river on endangered fish, said
Blan Holman, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law
"The Corps and Congress have steadfastly refused to ask if
Savannah is the best deepwater option in the South Atlantic,"
Holman said on Thursday. "They'd rather borrow billions to
dredge all the harbors, then let foreign shipping lines play our
ports off one another."
A spokesman for the Corps would not comment on the lawsuit.
Environmental mitigation could begin in 2013, depending on
funding, Savannah District Corps spokesman Billy E. Birdwell
said on Thursday.
It will include the $14 million removal of a Confederate
ironclad warship, the Georgia, which was sunk in the middle of
the river in 1864 to prevent it from falling into Union hands.
(Editing by David Adams and Todd Eastham)