Georgia lawmakers approved $50 million in additional funding this week for the state’s Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) – a massive $652 million taxpayer-funded endeavor which received a key shot in the arm from S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley in 2011.
The project aims to deepen the Savannah River from 42 to 47 feet to accommodate the next generation of super-sized container ships – a.k.a. “Post-Panamax” ships.
The administration of Barack Obama is on board with the project, and the state legislature has now appropriated more than $231 million toward its completion.
In November 2011, Haley’s appointees to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) reversed the agency’s prior decision to deny a water quality permit in conjunction with the expansion. In exchange for this flip-flop, Haley received financial support from Georgia donors as well as a prime time speaking slot at the 2012 Republican National Convention.
In response to Haley’s sellout, lawmakers were forced to appropriate $300 million toward the dredging of Charleston Harbor in an effort to keep up with Savannah.
Of course the real damage done by the governor has nothing to do with Charleston and everything to do with Jasper County, S.C. – which is home to the last viable deepwater port location on the Eastern Seaboard. Under the Savannah plan endorsed by Haley, not only would the Georgia port gain a competitive advantage against Charleston – which it has been beating like a drum in recent years – but toxic sludge from the dredging project would be dumped on the Jasper County port site for the next fifty years.
While Jasper remains dead in the water, Charleston interests say they aren’t sweating Georgia’s expansion plans.
“They still will not have the capability Charleston has today,” one port insider told us.
Still, Haley’s sellout remains – in our opinion – her single most egregious lapse in judgment since taking office in January 2011.