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SC Supreme Court To Hear Savannah River Dredging Case

For months, South Carolina officials have tussled over who has authority to permit dredging of the Savannah River. Now the South Carolina Supreme Court has stepped in to decide the matter quickly. Both Georgia and South Carolina share the Savannah River, so when Georgia wanted to deepen part of the river to make room for bigger ships, it needed South Carolina's permission. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control - or DHEC - said "yes" to Georgia, to the chagrin of many state lawmakers who think the decision will hurt South Carolina's ports. They argue the dredging permit wasn't DHEC's to give because a 2007 state law created Savannah River Maritime Commission to represent the state in such decisions. Several lawsuits to that effect are winding their way through various state courts, the highest of which has now decided to hear the case. The Southern Environmental Law Center petitioned the South Carolina Supreme Court to hear the case on behalf of several environmental groups. "We have asked the Supreme Court to take on that very important issue: did DHEC usurp the (Savannah River Maritime) Commission's authority?" says SELC attorney Chris DeSchere. "We believe DHEC did usurp the commission's authority." DHEC Director Catherine Templeton says she looks forward to the court's guidance on her agency's authority. South Carolina state lawmakers recently made their position clear with a resolution affirming the Savannah River Maritime Commission's authority to handle dredging decisions. Governor Nikki Haley vetoed the resolution, saying she thinks DHEC was right to give Georgia the permit. Lawmakers quickly overrode her veto in a nearly unanimous vote. The State Supreme Court's decision to take original jurisdiction in the case likely means a speedier resolution. Initial filings are due in two and a half weeks.