Republicans and Democrats alike are assailing Gov. Nikki Haley’s betrayal of South Carolina’s economic and environmental interests – and demanding an investigation into pressure her administration allegedly brought to bear on the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
On Thursday, the SCDHEC board approved the state of Georgia’s application for a $600 million dredging project on the Savannah River – reversing a decision made by the agency just six weeks earlier. The project would enable the Port of Savannah to handle larger container ships, enhancing its competitive advantage at the expense of the Port of Charleston, which has seen its competitive position plummet in recent years.
More importantly, the decision likely amounts to a death knell for a proposed Jasper County port – effectively granting South Carolina’s seal of approval to Georgia’s plan to stab our state in the back regarding the development of this deep water port.
“The State of South Carolina has lost a great deal of the leverage it had,” said S.C. Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort). “It was entirely possible, even likely, that a comprehensive agreement could have been reached between the two states not only in regard to (Savannah’s port expansion) and the development of the Jasper port site, but also in regard to other areas of interest concerning the Savannah River.”
That’s putting it nicely …
Haley flat out sold South Carolina down the river – a decision that could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue over the coming decade.
The decision by Haley’s appointees prompted S.C. Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) to demand an investigation into the source of the political pressure applied to the agency – while one Democratic State Senator took things a step further and demanded the resignations of each member of the SCDHEC board.
“(Thursday’s) decision by the DHEC board is a disaster for our state’s environment and our future economic growth,” said S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden). “Selling out on protection of our sensitive natural habitats and our own economy is a blunder that will cost us dearly in jobs and natural resources. The DHEC Board members should resign immediately.”
Both South Carolina and Georgia are competing to land additional container traffic – particularly from larger ships that are being built in anticipation of an expansion of the Panama Canal.
“Governor Haley and her team have launched a direct assault on the Port of Charleston, the jobs it creates, and the families those jobs support,” S.C. Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-Charleston) said. “The people of South Carolina deserve an answer from the Governor for this outrageous act of betrayal – because ultimately the buck stops with her.”
Republican House members joined Stavrinakis in assailing Haley.
“Governor Haley apparently needs to be reminded that her job is to protect the interests of South Carolinians, not to do ‘what’s best for the region,'” said S.C. Rep. Kevin Ryan (R-Georgetown). “The DHEC board members, all Haley appointees, need to explain why they made the unanimous decision to give Georgia an upper hand in port competitiveness. DHEC staff’s original decision to deny permits based on environmental concerns should not be set aside due to political considerations. The people of South Carolina deserve better.”
So … why did Haley intervene in the SCDHEC process?
According to our sources, monied Georgia interests with connections to the Port of Savannah threw a big fundraiser for Haley in Atlanta last month. Also, our sources say that the chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority – a major GOP donor who will select speakers for next year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida – has been negotiating with Haley and her political consultant to land the governor a coveted prime time speaking gig at the event.
Neither Haley nor Lerner returned messages seeking comment regarding those allegations. A spokesman for the Georgia Ports Authority was not immediately available for comment.
Shortly after her 2010 election, Haley instigated a major spat with Georgia – sending a clear warning across the Savannah River regarding port-related issues.
“You now have a governor who does not like to lose,” Haley told a cheering crowd of S.C. State Ports Authority supporters in Charleston. “Georgia has had their way with us for way too long, and I don’t have the patience to let it happen anymore.”
Last month, though – right around the time that Georgia donors allegedly began stroking checks to her campaign – Haley’s tune began to change.