Haley vetoes bill, clears way for Georgia port deepening

gnsmith@thestate.com February 28, 2012 

Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed a legislative resolution Monday that would have undone a controversial decision that helped clear the way for the deepening of Georgia’s main port.

At issue is a water-quality permit that a Haley-appointed board, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control board, approved in November after staff members with that agency originally rejected the idea. Critics say that permitting gives Georgia’s Savannah port a competitive advantage over South Carolina’s Charleston port.

State senators and House members, upset at the DHEC board, unanimously passed a resolution lambasting the permit. Their resolution claims DHEC lacked the authority to issue the permit. Instead, they argue another board – the Savannah River Maritime Commission, which legislators created in 2007 – has that authority but was never consulted.

In her veto message, Haley says the DHEC board has the sole permitting authority, pointing to a 2010 opinion by South Carolina’s attorney general.

“Only DHEC can issue (the permit) which is why the Attorney General has opined that the Savannah River Maritime Commission has no authority to grant them,” Haley said in her veto message.

However, lawmakers said Haley is wrong.

“That is an attorney general’s opinion and an opinion only,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland. “The Legislature’s opinion is the Maritime Commission was created with the final authority on permits affecting the Savannah River. For them to be excluded from the (permit) process was wrong.”

Additionally, Haley’s veto says the resolution passed by lawmakers attempts to undo a type of permit that DHEC never issued. Thus, “the joint resolution has no practical effect,” her veto message reads.

Now, it is up to lawmakers to decide whether to override Haley’s veto or let is stand.

“I think the veto will be overridden in the same unanimous fashion,” Lourie predicted.

The veto came on the same day as the release of an email that shows the state Department of Natural Resources was not involved in the permitting discussions between DHEC and Georgia officials.

Bob Perry, a Natural Resources permitting official, said his department would not agree with DHEC’s request to say his agency “was involved in the dialogue,’’ according to that email.

“I told her NO!’’ Perry’s Nov. 17 email to DNR director John Frampton said. “Up to the very last minute (DHEC officials) were telling me that their staff decisions were unchanged, and I reminded them that the DNR position had not changed.’’

Ultimately, the courts will decide the issue. State Attorney General Alan Wilson has agreed to represent the Maritime Commission in court, arguing the permit was improperly granted.

Staff Writer Sammy Fretwell contributed to this report. Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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