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POSTED: March 28, 2014 4:00 p.m.
Jessica Leigh Lebos/Connect Savannah

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So, how did you spend Thursday night last week? Rockin' out to the Avett Brothers concert at the Savannah Music Festival? Busily completing brackets after the Texas Longhorns' win over Arizona State? Maybe you were just clipping your toenails in front of Scandal.

But I’m pretty sure where you were not: At the Sierra Club meeting.

It’s a shame, because president Steve Willis presented a rather enlightening overview of the Savannah River Harbor Expansion Project. Many have asked for more facts regarding this economically uncertain, environmentally treacherous and extremely expensive proposal, but it seems Willis prepared his riveting Powerpoint for a mostly empty room.

While he understands that it’s hard to compete with a soundbyte, what Willis really wants is for Savannahians to look beyond the biased, Port Authority-approved information they read in the daily paper.

“People need to be reminded that the Port Authority is a state agency,” he explained. “They’re spending a whole lot of money on trying to sell you on this and they’re using your money to do it!”

Since we last checked in with this modern version of the Emperor Has No Clothes, the White House has announced there would be no millions in the federal budget to dredge the Savannah River. You may have read that this is how mean ol’ President Obama is punishing Gov. Nathan Deal for his refusal to expand Medicaid (and possibly for calling him a Commie Muslim weakling behind his back all these years.)

Don’t be so vain, Georgia Republicans. Nobody’s port project got its money—and the problematic Water Resources and Development Act remains in limbo in the U.S. House of Representatives. Maybe, just maybe, the hold-up means that the current administration is starting to rethink its national port strategy. Or more specifically, it’s thinking about having one at all.

Yet state politicians and their friends insist that using our tax monies to start digging anyway is a grand idea, even the Democrats. (Et tu, Jason Carter?!)

Willis and the rest of us who question the long-range consequences of SHEP hardly stand a chance against that kind of blind bipartisanship, and even those who aren’t sold believe resistance is futile. And it well may be, as a dozen lefty liberals in a church basement are hardly a threat to Georgia’s teratoid political-industrial complex.

“People don’t really go to meetings anymore,” lamented vice chair Karen Grainey. “We need a new strategy.”

In the age of Attention Deficit Armchair Activism, we agreed it might help if Willis’ meticulous slideshow was distilled into one of those snappy, Buzzfeed-type lists to click and share. It would be a damn shame to let this diabolical plan go down without a fight. Or at least a really vigorous Facebook thread.

So here you go:

Ten Reasons Why Rushing the Savannah Harbor Deepening Is A BAD Idea:

10. It ain’t never gonna be deep enough. Even Atlanta mayor and deepening cheerleader Kasim Reed admits that the Savannah River would have to be 50 feet to compete with other ports. But analysis by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows that benefits tank and risks surge any deeper than 47 feet. So SHEP essentially will spend almost $700 million just to fall short ... pretty shallow logic, no?

9. River ports just aren’t meant for super-sized ships. Imagine a ship bigger than an aircraft carrier snaking its way 37 miles up the Savannah River, past Tybee’s North Beach, past the liquid gas bubble domes of Elba Island and throwing serious shade on that cocktail you’re having at Rocks on the Roof.

8. Those big ships aren’t coming anytime soon. Or like, ever. Global experts warn that the promised business they’re supposed to bring is mostly hype. Also, the Panama Canal expansion—cited as the main reason for dredging U.S. ports—stopped operations for weeks last month due to budget shortfalls. Some speculate it may shut down altogether.

7. Turns out those big ships are way too big for the Panama Canal, anyway. Shipping companies are already building vessels to hold 18,000 TEUs for the Suez Express route as the floundering Panama Canal project maxes out at 13,000 TEU capabilities. Can we stop calling them “post-Panamax” ships and simply refer to them as Floating Leviathans?

6. It’s totally offline with what the rest of the world is doing. The Economist reports that only five deepwater ports will be developed in all of Europe. Shanghai and Rotterdam tore down their river ports and rebuilt on the ocean, where the environmental impact is minimal and ships the size of Rhode Island can come call whenever they like. Here in the U.S., 17 U.S. Ports are currently under consideration for expensive dredgings, with no cohesive strategy in sight.

5. It threatens the local water supply. No one knows if piercing the Floridan Aquifer is really a possibility. But saltwater uptake at Abercorn Creek is a certainty, so much so that a freshwater reservoir must be built—then financially maintained by the City of Savannah taxpayers. That’s you and me.

4. The money isn’t there, remember? Gov. Deal has pledged to start digging this summer with only a third of the funds secured. Pretty weird for a fiscal conservative. When was the last time your remodel came in on budget? 

3. The environmental nightmare hasn’t even begun. Nevermind the suffocated fish, the salty water and thousands of acres of destroyed wildlife refuge: The $300+ million for “environmental mitigation”—almost half of the total SHEP price tag—doesn’t address any of the long-range effects. Plus, those Speece cones don’t really jive with our historic architecture.

2. It puts Savannah’s strongest economic arm in jeopardy. While so many claim SHEP will create jobs, jobs, jobs, the Corps itself reports not a one; it may even result in fewer workers. However, the influx of pollution, traffic and crime that follow port expansions will surely have a negative effect on tourism. Who wants to visit a city on a dead river?

1. Savannah will forever be changed. How would you like that wild shrimp to taste—paper or plastic? The increase in shipping containers won’t boost the local economy, but a legacy of toxic dredgings and industrial waste will despoil everything we hold sacred about our historically-rich jewel of city.

Once this is broken, it can’t be fixed, folks. Keep looking past the propaganda and ask who actually benefits from this project. Unless you own a shipping company or a politician, it’s not likely going to be you.

Want to see the full presentation? "Like" Coastal Group of the Georgia Sierra Club on Facebook or email snwillis@yahoo.com.

 

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