Email could be critical in Senate port hearing

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - A panel of state lawmakers plans to question several of Governor Nikki Haley's staffers Thursday about what role, if any, they had in a decision that will allow for the dredging of the Savannah River.

Haley detractors say the governor pressured the Department of Health and Environmental Control Board to make the move to pay back political favors to supporters in Georgia. Haley and her staff has denied any role in the decision.

However, an anonymous email from a DHEC staffer is raising some questions.

"It contradicts some of what we heard the other day so you've got conflicting stories," said Senator Joel Lourie D-Richland. "You've got the board saying one thing, you got a staffer saying another. You've got the governor's staff saying one thing, you got a member of the House saying she went and told them she said this is the best thing we've ever done."

Lourie says the email was originally sent to Orangeburg Democrat Senator Brad Hutto.

Last week, the DHEC board testified under oath to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee that Haley and her staff did not influence their vote. On Friday, the panel issued subpoenas to four Haley staff members to also testify under oath in a Thursday morning hearing. Haley and her staff had turned down two formal invitations from the panel, saying their appearance would be unnecessary and would set a bad precedent.

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In early November, the Department of Health and Environmental Control board approved a water permit that clears the way for a project that will allow Georgia to expand the port of Savannah. Weeks earlier, the board expressed water quality concerns about the project.

Some lawmakers and business leaders have been critical of the move, saying it will give Georgia a competitive edge over the Port of Charleston by allowing it to attract larger ships that will start coming through the Panama Canal. Lowcountry officials are still seeking funding to deepen Charleston's harbor.

Sen. Joel Lourie says lawmakers are already drafting legislation to override DHEC's decision.