– October 18, 2023 –

Good morning. We’re all about digging today. First there’s the prospect of another Savannah harbor deepening and a review of the environmental concerns that dredges up. Then there are loggerhead sea turtle nests dug a little too low on the beach. Finally, we have Hogg Hummock residents digging in their heels in court over a recent rezoning. Dig in!

Harbor deepening and the environment

Georgia Ports Authority announced last week its intention to seek an even deeper harbor, just 18 months after it finished dredging to 47 feet, as Dave Williams of Capitol Beat reports. The current Savannah Harbor Expansion Project may be done digging, but it’s still working on its mitigation measures. The efforts to mop up the harm done by dredging cost more than half the project’s nearly $1 billion price tag. And monitoring of a host of environmental conditions is set to continue for 10 years post construction, well into the next decade.

In some cases, like a proposed fish bypass in Augusta for endangered short-nosed sturgeon, the mitigation work hasn’t yet begun, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ website indicates. More dredging is certain to require more mitigation, including more oxygen injection systems to keep the harbor from becoming a dead zone. It’s likely to also require the purchase of more wetlands to compensate for those degraded by dredging.

The integrity of the region’s drinking water sources — the Floridan aquifer and the Savannah River, will also be top of mind. Already Savannah operates a $44 million reservoir created by the project as a hedge against the deeper river allowing salty water to push farther upstream toward its drinking water intake. Previous modeling indicated the aquifer wouldn’t be damaged by dredging to a proposed 48 feet, but an even deeper harbor will likely bring even more concern for that water source, too.

The dissolved oxygen system is one feature in the environmental mitigation for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The system forces oxygen into river water via two separate plants using proprietary Speece cones to super-oxygenate water taken from the river and re-introduce it back into the river. The system is designed to provide 40,000 pounds of oxygen per day into the estuary to mitigate for the effects on dissolved oxygen from the harbor deepening.
The dissolved oxygen system is one feature in the environmental mitigation for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Credit: Rashida Banks/USCOE

Sea level rise swamps turtle nests

Loggerhead sea turtles are a point of pride for Coastal Georgians, hundreds of whom have helped patrol beaches and protect and monitor sea turtle nests from Tybee to Cumberland. Their efforts have helped Georgia’s sea turtle nest numbers grow by about 4% annually over the last several decades. But now sea level rise and predators are countering some of that success, as Emily Jones of Grist/WABE reports. Loggerheads hatched at a rate slightly below average this summer, thanks in part to tides coming in higher than predicted and swamping the nests. The saving grace? Georgia’s many undeveloped beaches have the ability to shift and re-form as the sea rises.

Sea turtle hatchlings head to the ocean.
Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings head to the ocean. Credit: Ga. DNR

Hogg Hummock heads to court

Black residents of Sapelo Island are pushing back against a rezoning that would allow taller, larger homes in Hogg Hummock, the only remaining intact Gullah-Geechee community on the coast. Nine residents filed a complaint asking the court to undo the zoning, which they fear will lead to an influx of wealthy developers and higher property taxes they can’t afford, as The Current’s Mary Landers reports.

Gullah-Geechee people are the descendants of enslaved people from West Africa who were forced to work on coastal rice, Sea Island cotton and indigo plantations from Florida to North Carolina. They’ve lost their land up and down the coast from development, but that’s not the only threat.  The Pulitzer Center reports they are “among the most climate-threatened people in the world due to sea level rise and increasing climate-related events.”

Sapelo Island
Sign designating the Historic Hog Hammock Community on Sapelo Island. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

Also noted:

• For the second year in a row, fishermen in the Delaware Bay are foregoing the harvest of female horsehoe crabs for bait. The crabs’ blood is used in testing medical equipment for pathogens. But horseshoe crabs’ eggs are a critical food for long-distance migrant shorebirds including the endangered red knot. The Delaware Bay is an important stopover for this and other species, as is the Georgia Coast, as The Current reported earlier this year.

• “Seven groups across the U.S. were announced Friday as recipients of billions of dollars in federal funds to establish hubs for producing hydrogen energy. But Georgia’s bid did not make the cut,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Coastal Georgia has a player in this arena: Plug Power is developing a hydrogen plant in Woodbine.

• The Georgia Board of Natural Resources often meets in Atlanta, but its upcoming meeting is scheduled for the coast. The meeting will be 9 a.m., October 24 at the Savannah Economic Development Authority, 906 Drayton Street, Savannah. The agenda includes a report from EPD Director Jeff Cown, whose division is still mulling the issuance of a permit for a controversial surface mining project near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

If you have feedback, questions, concerns, or just like what you see, let us know at staff@thecurrentga.org.

Ports authority proposes another Savannah Harbor deepening project

About 18 months after the Savannah harbor was dredged to 47 feet, GPA officials are looking to go deeper

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Sea turtles are hatching, but at slightly lower rates

Loggerhead sea turtle nesting is increasing steadily, but sea level rise poses a challenge to hatching rates.

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Hogg Hummock residents challenge zoning in court

Complaint alleges new zoning discriminates against the Gullah-Geechee descendants of enslaved workers, didn’t follow proper process for zoning changes.

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Mary Landers is a reporter for The Current in Coastal Georgia with more than two decades of experience focusing on the environment. Contact her at mary.landers@thecurrentga.org She covered climate and...