The Savannah River Maritime Commission also says it wants U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel to rule that in carrying out the deepening project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must obey South Carolina environmental rules and “must comply with South Carolina law, including orders, rulings, decisions, and opinions” of the state’s Supreme Court, Administrative Law Court and the commission.
Attorneys for the commission, including Attorney General Alan Wilson, filed court papers Tuesday seeking to enter the lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Savannah Riverkeeper, based in Augusta, as well as the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.
That lawsuit contends the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs a South Carolina pollution permit before the river can be dredged.
The lawsuit, which a federal judge last week refused to dismiss, alleges the project will mean dredging toxic cadmium in river silt that will be dumped on the South Carolina side of the river. It asks the judge to decide whether such a permit is needed.
The Maritime Commission says it has standing to enter the case because it is empowered by South Carolina lawmakers to represent the state “in all matters pertaining to the navigability, depth, dredging, wastewater and sludge disposal, and related collateral issues in regard to the use of the Savannah River as a waterway for ocean-going container or commerce vessels.”
The filing also notes that the commission is the agency that would have to issue any pollution permit.
Environmentalists have also sued in state court, alleging that a water quality permit approved by the Department of Health and Environmental Control last year is illegal because the commission, not DHEC, has authority over activities on the river.
Chief Justice Jean Toal said during a Supreme Court hearing that DHEC broke state law when it left the commission out of dredging negotiations and “rubber stamped” an agreement with Georgia officials. DHEC staff had initially turned down the water quality permit, but the agency reversed itself after Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal flew to Columbia to meet with Gov. Nikki Haley, who appoints members of the DHEC board.
The commission, in its filing this week to enter the pollution permit case, said that the motion to intervene meets the requirements of federal court rules.
It noted that the commission is a party “in all other pending actions and challenges” in South Carolina involving the river deepening.