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Spartan

North Charleston Port

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Basicly this article says that State lawmakers want the Fed to go ahead and approve a new shipping terminal in North Charleston at the southern end of the old Charleston Naval Base. The potential delay is an environmental impact survey. SC Port officials say that the Daniel Island Environmental Impact study done a few years ago can be used for the current proposal. (Daniel Island is literally right accross the river from the new site). Basicly the hold up for its much needed construction is this environmantal impact study.

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The Post and Courier 3/17

Lawmakers want port on fast track

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Need for full-scale environmental study for planned new terminal debated

State lawmakers are calling on federal permitting officials to expedite their review of a proposed new shipping terminal in North Charleston, arguing that a full-scale environmental study would be a waste of time and taxpayers' money.

The legislative support comes as the Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday launched an ambitious information campaign aimed at drawing out public comments on the State Ports Authority's plan to build a $500 million terminal at the southern end of the former Charleston Naval Base.

The SPA, a state agency, is footing the $1.8 million bill for the corps' environmental review of the project.

Legislators said the draft environmental impact study conducted on Daniel Island should cover most of the same ground necessary to move the base-expansion project forward.

While that study covers some of the same ground, Lt. Col. Alvin Lee, commander of the corps' Charleston district, said it doesn't address all essential issues relative to the expansion.

"The needs are different than they were on the Daniel Island project," he said.

The corps is locked into what's known as an environmental impact statement but Lee said the time frame is flexible. The target date for a final permitting decision is December 2005, but the public input process that began Tuesday would largely determine the length of the study.

The corps could take up to two years to decide whether to issue a permit, and it could be another five years before the 250-acre terminal goes online.

Officials with the Port of Charleston, the fourth-busiest container port in the country, say they don't have that kind of time, as cargo volumes continue to grow and existing Lowcountry terminals are near capacity.

"It's a waste of money in my opinion," state Sen. Arthur Ravenel Jr., R-Mount Pleasant, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Why make the SPA go to this tremendous expense when it's just not justified?"

Ravenel and other lawmakers who vehemently opposed the SPA's now-defunct plan to develop the Global Gateway terminal on Daniel Island, just across the Cooper River from the Navy base site, are asking the corps to avoid reinventing the wheel.

"I think this thing has been studied to death," Sen. Bill Mescher, R-Pinopolis, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "We should get to it. The port needs the expansion."

The General Assembly steered the SPA to the base after the agency's Daniel Island plan ran into a firestorm of public opposition, but not before the SPA spent three years and $3 million pushing the plan.

"We wouldn't have done that if we didn't think it was a viable site," Mescher said, noting that most of the issues that made the Daniel Island plan controversial are nonexistent at the base.

The Coastal Conservation League, which played a significant role in mobilizing opposition to the Daniel Island port, also supports an expedited review, but believes the corps is doing the right thing by undertaking the in-depth review, said Nancy Vinson of the Coastal Conservation League.

Ravenel, Mescher and several other lawmakers recently expressed their wishes in letters to Lee. The legislators were in session and could not attend Tuesday's public meeting on the issue.

Federal lawmakers also have attempted to lean on the corps. Last year, six members of the state's congressional delegation asked a top Army official at The Pentagon to finalize the Navy base permit "with utmost haste."

The letter, signed by U.S. Sens. Fritz Hollings, Lindsey Graham and others, requested that "data already collected and analyzed for the (Daniel Island study) be utilized to the maximum extent, thereby saving both time and money."

In a response letter, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) R.L. Brownlee said the corps would not duplicate its previous efforts, but he cautioned that "an immense amount of information must be collected and analyzed" and that "sufficient time must be budgeted for this activity."

Mescher said he understands where the corps is coming from but hopes common sense will prevail over bureaucracy.

"We are in a litigious society. I think they are just going out of their way so they can't be faulted," Mescher said. "But I think they need to overlook that. This is a special case."

The corps has reason to act cautiously. It recently was sued by an environmental group and residents in Houston who allege the agency did not adequately review potential environmental impacts before approving a new shipping terminal in Galveston Bay.

Construction of that terminal is on hold until a judge decides whether the corps adequately reviewed the project's environmental impact.

BY RON MENCHACA

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