South Carolina State Senate Maj. Leader Harvey Peeler wants the governor and her staff to explain her role in a controversial decision by the Department of Health and Environmental Control Board two weeks ago. The board granted a water quality permit to the Army Corps of Engineers allowing them dredge part of Savannah River near South Carolina, in order to deepen access to the Savannah port in Georgia.
Peeler has called together the Senate’s Medical Affairs Committee for a hearing on Nov. 29 at the Statehouse. He has asked DHEC Board members to attend and sent this letter to the governor, asking for her cooperation, along with records of her correspondence with Georgia officials and Gov. Nathan Deal concerning the dredging request.
The governor later told South Carolina’s maritime interests that state officials should not always say “no” to neighboring states. She sais she is still committed to the Port of Charleston, which competes with the Port of Savannah for shipping business.
Critics of the DHEC decision to permit say the agency does not have the authority to approve something that has such far-reaching environmental impact without consulting other stakeholders.
DHEC staff initially oppposed the dredging, saying they were afraid the deepening would deplete the river’s already-low oxygen levels, harming endangered fish. The board reversed its stance after reaching an eleventh-hour compromise only hours before the hearing. The governor surprised legislators by supporting that reversal.