Green groups urge critical look at RiverPort

Green groups urge critical look at RiverPort

One thing is settled: There’s a great deal at stake at the future RiverPort business park.

But while supporters say the project will create 24,000 jobs by year 30 in the impoverished region, others warn of the risks to critical habitat, freshwater wetlands and the fragile life they support.
The Charleston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating a proposal from Stratford Land, the City of Hardeeville, and Jasper County for the 5,000-acre site that shares a six-mile boundary with the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.  Last month the corps held a public meeting and collected comments for its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on RiverPort and the proposed new interchange on I-95.

The development site is located just north of the future Jasper Ocean Terminal spot, amid other controversial projects inthe ecologically sensitive area.

“I always believed that to make a quality of life a greater quality of life, you need a job, and that’s what it’s all abouttoday,” said Hardeeville Mayor Bronco Bostick, during last month’s public meeting.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity to bring quality in numbers of new jobs, and it’s an area that desperately needs it,” said Tom DeMint, a senior advisor at commercial real estate firm Sperry Van Ness. He said he represents the Dowling family,which owns the Sherwood Plantation Tract and has a 2 1/2-mile boundary with the RiverPort site.

But those jobs may come at a cost.?

On Thursday, Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus, warned that the effects of the massive development could offset someof the environmental mitigation measures for the Savannah Harbor deepening project.  She also questioned what steps wouldbe taken to calculate the impact of RiverPort on the ongoing efforts of more than a dozen industrial and municipal pollutersalong the river to reduce how much ammonia and other dissolved-oxygen demanding substances they discharge into the waterway.

“You’re talking about a massive loss of swamp,” said Bonitatibus, adding that swampland acts as “kidneys” to support cleanwater. This month the Southern Environmental Law Center submitted its comments to the corps for the draft EIS. The comments represent the Bonitatibus’s organization and others. They said the EIS should examine how an expanse of new paved surfaces, such asparking lots, could harm water quality.

The groups also pointed to the added light pollution shining at the site, and how it could affect migratory birds and otherspecies at the Refuge. They also urged those preparing the EIS to consider how the Refuge might be harmed by the combined effects of RiverPort, the Clydesdale and Murray Hill commercial mitigation banks, the Georgia Ports Authority’s harbor deepening,and rising sea levels and climate change.

Pollutants have already caused parts of the lower Savannah River to be listed as impaired, said the environmental groups.  So the EIS should also address whether direct and indirect discharges of additional pollutant-laded water could make conditions worse.
Officials project that the business park will be one of the largest logistics and industrial sites in the Southeast and will accommodate some of the increased container traffic into the Savannah port expected from the larger post-Panamax Canal vessels. The site will consist of a 1,755-acre business park, an 840-acre commercial village, and a 2,390-acre mixed-use portion of residential and commercial space.

When asked about environmental concerns Thursday, David Moore, Stratford Land’s senior investment manager for the southeast,said: “It is our understanding that all the comments that were provided at the public scoping meeting in Hardeeville have been incorporated into the final scope for the EIS.” He deferred to the corps for specific information regarding the scope of the environmental impact statement.