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Ruling: River Dredging Case Can Proceed

Judge refuses to dismiss case alleging potential environmental harm from Savannah River deepening.

A federal court judge will hear a lawsuit on potential environmental harm posed by planned dredging of the Savannah River.

Environmental groups, on behalf of the Savannah Riverkeeper, have filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alleging the $650 million dredging of the 38-mile shipping channel poses environmental risks to South Carolina. The states are divided by the river.

Both South Carolina and Georgia are moving ahead with plans to deepen rival shipping channels — one in Savannah, the other in Charleston — as East Coast sea ports race to accommodate larger ships that will come out of a widened Panama Canal. Savannah's project will start in the spring; Charleston's project is still being studied.

It took 14 years of planning for Savannah to get to this point, and most environmental assessments agree that deepening the harbor will impact oxygen levels in the river, according to the judge's ruling.

But the Corps argued the suit was premature since no environmental harm has yet been caused. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel disagreed and said he would hear the case because the plaintiffs would be unable to stop a "bureaucratic steam roller" if the the project actually harms the environment.

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