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State Supreme Court agrees to hear Savannah River case

By Matt Tomsic
Published April 10, 2012

The state Supreme Court will hear a petition that argues the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control acted outside of its authority last year when it issued permits for a Savannah River deepening project.

The Savannah Riverkeeper, the Coastal Conservation League, the S.C. Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Voters of South Carolina filed the petition in March. Lawyers from the Southern Environmental Law Center are representing the group.

Previous coverage:
DHEC welcomes state Supreme Court action in permit case
Environmental groups petition top court over DHEC permit decision

“We are pleased the court is moving with dispatch to resolve whether the DHEC board overstepped its authority in approving this destructive project,” said Blan Holman, an attorney with the law center.

DHEC is the only respondent and did not oppose the petition, filing a response in mid-March that said by taking the case, the Supreme Court “will conserve judicial resources and will simplify and expedite proceedings now pending in the administrative law court.”

"We are pleased that the Supreme Court will hear this matter and that the court has issued an expedited schedule. We welcome prompt review and resolution of the questions before the court,” said S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Templeton.

In November, the DHEC board struck a deal with Georgia officials, who agreed to maintain more than 600 acres of marsh in South Carolina and to pay for maintaining dissolved oxygen levels in the Savannah River for 50 years.

In exchange, DHEC issued a 401 Water Quality Certification and Navigable Waters Permit for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which could deepen the river to a depth between 42 and 48 feet.

“In our view, reaching any kind of agreement with Georgia for this project is the sole province of the (Savannah River Maritime Commission),” said Holman at the time of the filing, adding a 2007 state law makes the maritime commission the state’s representative for dredging and navigation issues. “The DHEC board worked a deal with Georgia, and they just don’t have the power to do that.”

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