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Friday, February 18, 2011 - 8:00am

Ga. Conservancy Defends Harbor Position

Officials with the Georgia Conservancy say, the organization has not changed its position on Savannah harbor deepening.

The group is facing questions after its Savannah staff was fired and an op-ed piece raised eyebrows.

In the op-ed article, published in the Savannah Morning News, Georgia Conservancy President Pierre Howard said, "We do not intend to stand in the way of deepening."

The half-billion-dollar project has has angered environmental activists, who worry about the project's effects on the coastal environment.

A week earlier, the organization's two Savannah-based employees, Will Berson and Summer Teal-Simpson, were fired.

Savannah Riverkeeper Tonia Bonitatibus says, Howard's op-ed gave people the "warm fuzzies" about the harbor deepening.

"I think that his op-ed was irresposible," Bonitatibus says. "It's not only irresponsible on behalf of an environmental group, it's irresponsible to the citizens that are relying on that and thinking it's the truth."

Howard wasn't available for comment.

However, a spokesman for the Georgia Conservancy, Paul Donsky, says that the organization's goal all along was to find ways to make the project better, not to stop it.

"In our comments to the Corps last month, we asked for better 'mitigation' plans and for stronger oversight of the project and its potential environmental impacts," Donsky says. "The Conservancy will stay involved in the process because, while we understand that this is an important project to the coastal economy, we are committed to protecting the Savannah port's rich ecosystem."

Donsky says that the firing of the Savannah staff was not related to the op-ed article.

He declined to discuss why the staff was fired but said that the Georgia Conservancy will retain a Savannah office.