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Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - 5:02pm

SC Wants More Time To Study Harbor Project

South Carolina environmental officials plan on saying no to a water quality certification necessary to deepen the Savannah harbor.

Georgia officials worry the denial could delay a project deemed critical for new jobs.

South Carolina officials say, the US Army Corp of Engineers isn't giving them enough time to determine whether the massive project threatens water quality in their state.

Scientists have been studying that issue for 11 years

Thom Berry of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says, they only got the science last month.

"When we do a review, we have to go with the material that is presented to us at the time," Berry says.

Under the Clean Water Act, states have a year to certify water quality.

Corp of Engineers spokesman Billy Birdwell says, the state review was expected and won't push back the timeline for the project, known as SHEP.

"The current project scheduled for SHEP will be maintained," Birdwells says.

The public has until January 25th to comment on the project.

Environmental groups have objected to that schedule.

Chris DeShearer of the Southern Environmental Law Center says, the project needs to slow down.

"To digest the results of those studies in 45 days after the agency and all their consultants have had years and years and years to compile this information just doesn't add up to meaningful public comment," DeShearer says.

Of course, Georgia officials want the harbor deepened as soon as possible.

Under the current timeline, the Savannah harbor expansion already is scheduled to open slightly later than the 2014 opening date for the Panama Canal expansion.

That's the date port officials are worried about.

The Panama Canal expansion has set off competitive rivalries among ports along the Atlantic Coast as they race to prepare for the larger ships -- translate to jobs -- that the Panama Canal project is expected to bring.

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