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Monday, September 5, 2011 - 8:01am

Fisheries Service Protects Sturgeon

US fisheries officials say, they're close to agreeing with other federal agencies on Savannah harbor deepening.

Their concerns stem from potential habitat loss for the endangered shortnose sturgeon.

Deepening the harbor to serve big ships will disrupt the endangered fish's habitat.

So officials with the US Marine Fisheries Service want the project to include a $7 million fish ladder to help the fish go further upstream around New Savannah Bluff Dam near Augusta.

Deputy administrator David Bernhart of the service's Southeastern regional office says, his agency doesn't have a firm timeline yet.

"We've been working with the Army Corps on these Endangered Species Act requirements," Bernhart says. "And we need to complete a document that's required under that law."

The Fisheries Service must sign off on harbor deepening before it can begin.

"That document will be our evaluation of the project's impact," Bernhart says. "Then, it will be a second step for our parent agency, NOAA, to do any of the sign-offs.

State officials have made the project a top priority for years, saying it can't wait much longer.

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