Three environmental groups are suing to stop the Savannah River harbor deepening project, saying federal officials did not get a South Carolina pollution control permit.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, which filed the challenge on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League, the Savannah Riverkeeper, and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, cited a recent South Carolina Supreme Court decision that expands pollution regulations.
The lawsuit states the Army Corps of Engineers– which will oversee the dredging– cannot move any further unless it gets the permit.
“This situation is a once in a century, or maybe once in a millennium, project,” SELC senior attorney Frank Holleman told South Carolina Radio Network, “This is one of the most significant environmental projects to occur in South Carolina in our lifetime.”
“The important thing is that the permit process allows the public of the state… to comment and offer their expert knowledge and perspectives on the impact,” he added.
The Corps of Engineers says it does not comment on pending legal action.
As part of the deepening, the Army Corps will dump the river’s spoil on the South Carolina side of the river. Holleman said environmental groups are concerned because the mud will include cadmium, a toxic material.
The Corps may not have applied for the permit last year because it did not think it was required at the time. Last July, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled the state’s environmental agency had jurisdiction over “isolated wetlands.” Prior to that, the Department of Health and Environmental Control was only regulating coastal wetlands. However that could change again, as some state legislators say they want to move the law back to its previous interpretation.
Holleman argued the court interpreted the law properly. He addied the permitting process would give the public a chance to comment on the project.
While DHEC’s board recently signed off on the dredging in a controversial decision last year, Holleman said the pollution control permits are an entirely separate issue.