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Savannah River Deepening Project Put on Hold for Court-Mandated Mediation

Wednesday, March, 27, 2013


Last year, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel refused to dismiss a lawsuit that had been filed by environmental groups over a pollution permit and the Savannah River. Now, the case regarding a $650 million proposed project to deepen the Savannah River shipping channel has been sent to court-mandated mediation and representation for both sides in the dispute met this past week in Charleston, South Carolina to discuss the terms. 

When Judge Gergel decided to allow the lawsuit to continue before the project began, he wrote “This long and arduous planning and approval process is rapidly coming to completion.  Plaintiffs need not wait for dissolvable oxygen levels to drop in the Savannah River or cadmium contaminated clay to be discharged into the environment before they have standing to sue.”

The Plaintiffs who filed the suit were several environmental groups—the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Augusta, Georgia-based Savannah Riverkeeper; the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League; and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.  Each group will have representatives present in the mediation proceedings regarding the case and each claims that the project will cause toxic cadmium from the river’s floor to be dredged and then dumped on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. 

Additionally, the environmental groups claim that a pollution permit is needed for the work proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Their argument is that the pollution issue should be handled on the front-end of the project rather than in hindsight—a position with which Judge Gergel agreed completely. 

The original plan was proposed by the Georgia Ports Authority to facilitate the passage of large container ships that will be using the channel when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in approximately two years.  The deepening of the 38-mile waterway would increase the Savannah River’s depth by 5 feet.