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Tuesday, October 25, 2011 - 12:11pm

State Probes Port Permit Denial

Georgia officials will meet with South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control about the Savannah Harbor deepening project. The meeting comes after South Carolina rejected one of the project's permits.

State officials want to deepen the port so it can accommodate larger cargo ships after they come through the Panama Canal starting in 2014. But South Carolina’s environmental agency cited unacceptable harm to water quality in the Savannah River in rejecting the permit earlier this month.

Gov. Nathan Deal notes that Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division also had to deal with this issue. Speaking Tuesday at the State of the Ports luncheon in Atlanta, Deal said the state will make its case.

“We tentatively have a meeting next month to make a presentation both from the state of Georgia’s EPD as to how they have addressed the concerns that South Carolina has now raised, and also from the Corps of Engineers as to why they have signed off on it,” he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains Savannah River navigation channels. The river forms a border between the two states.

Politics has played a role in the harbor tussle between the states. But Deal said Southeastern ports need to band together.

"There's going to be enough traffic coming through the Panama Canal to service the Savannah Port, to service Charleston and others up the East Coast," he said. "I think it behooves Georgia and South Carolina to work in a cooperative fashion. Because if we don't, then we already know the New Yorks and the New Jerseys are coming together and they will present a unified front to make sure those vessels continue up the East Coast."

The third annual State of the Ports event, organized by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, featured a panel discussion with Deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Curtis Foltz, the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. And the panelists touched on the importance of the Coastal ports for all Georgians.

"If you breathe, sleep and eat, the goods that you are buying on the shelves probably came through our ports, or at least 80 percent of it," Foltz said to Atlanta business officials. "And if you produce anything, and you market it and sell it internationally, it moves through our ports."

Gov. Deal said even the outcome of next year’s transportation tax vote would affect the proposed Savannah Harbor deepening.

Georgians will vote on a penny sales tax for transportation next summer. The tax would fund roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

“It doesn’t do us a whole lot of good to be able to get the larger vessels and more cargo in to the port if we can’t distribute it and get it out. And that’s what transportation routes are all about,” he said.

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