State senators Thursday adamantly registered their disapproval of Gov. Nikki Haley’s handling of a controversial port project.
Senators joined House members, who had acted earlier, in voting to overturn Haley’s veto of a bill — now law — saying that the state Department of Health and Environmental Control had no right to issue a permit that helped clear the way for Georgia to dredge the Savannah River and expand its Savannah port.
The permitting controversy comes at the same time that South Carolina is working to expand its own Charleston Port and make headway on building a new port in Jasper County.
Calling it the “rape of the river,” senators voted 39-0 overturn Haley’s veto. House members voted 111 to 1 Tuesday to overturn it.
During Senate debate Wednesday, senators were critical of the permit, issued by DHEC commissioners appointed by Haley, and Haley, who has stood behind the DHEC board.
“To see the governor, in her veto message, adopt the arguments of Georgia — that shocks me unbelievably,” said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, who unsuccessfully ran against Haley in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
At issue is a water-quality permit for the Savannah port that was issued by DHEC’s Haley-appointed board of commissioners. Lawmakers have charged the permit, which helps clear the way for deepening the Georgia port, not only hurts South Carolina economically but also damages the river and jeopardizes aquatic life.
Earlier this month, the House and the Senate unanimously passed a resolution disavowing DHEC’s permitting decision and saying that agency lacked the authority to issue the permit. Lawmakers say that authority rests with another board, the Savannah River Maritime Commission.
Lawmakers and others, represented by state Attorney General Alan Wilson, have sued to block the permit.
Haley has said the General Assembly is overstepping its authority. The governor’s office did not immediately respond Thursday to the Senate vote.