Delays Possible in Harbor Deepening, Issue Critical to Environmental Mitigation

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says a delay of up to three months is now likely on part of the Savannah River deepening project.  Just a few weeks ago, the Corps announced officially that the dredging had started in the outer harbor off Tybee’s coast.  The project will eventually include deepening 40 miles of the river channel from 42 to 47 feet to allow larger ships to use the channel and ultimately the port of Savannah.

So the outer outer is the first phase.  The second phase is constructing an oxygen regeneration system.  That consists of putting up to a dozen large cone shaped containers at two points along the river.  The system will help mitigate the effects of the dredging which is expected to deplete oxygen from the river and allow for more salt in the river water.  Both are bad for fish and area wildlife.

“We’re going to put (the cones) in two locations, one up near Plant Mcintosh and also one set of them on Hutchinson Island.” says Billy Birdwell from the Army Corps of Engineers.  “We will be pulling raw water out of the river, mixing it with pure oxygen that we will generate at the site out or air.  That will mix together and then we will pump this highly oxygenated water back into the river and let the river current spread that around.”

The oxygen re-generation system is a requirement of a lawsuit settlement with a number of environmental groups that sued several years ago over the deepening project.  Birdwell says the cone system must not only be in place but functioning before the third phase of the project, the deepening of the inner harbor can begin.  While the Corps is confident the system will work and will replace oxygen into the river water, it must be able to prove it (with at least one cone system) definitively before the inner harbor dredging will be allowed.

Now there is an issue regarding the contract for the cone system.  A contractor who did not get the big is complaining to the General Accounting Office. “the GAO  has until around Thanksgiving to make a decision,” says Birdwell. “And if they decide in our favor shortly after that we’ll be able to start work building these plants.”

Birdwell says the delay promises to be just a few months at this point, which should not be a big issue considering the project took years for approval.  “We did want to start now however,” he told us.  “but the contractor objecting does have the right to this process.  However, we’re confident we made the right decision in the company we selected.

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