Panel questions DHEC board on Georgia port permit

A Senate panel is questioning DHEC board members about their approval of a permit to dredge the Savannah Harbor.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- The board overseeing South Carolina's environmental agency is telling state senators that Gov. Nikki Haley did not try to influence their vote on a permit allowing an expansion of the Savannah port.

A Senate committee on Tuesday questioned members of the Department of Health and Environmental Control's board, all of whom Haley appointed earlier this year.

Chairman Allen Amsler says Haley told him the board should hear the appeal. But all six members told the senators Haley put no pressure on them to approve the permit.

Agency staff rejected the water quality permit in September but reached an agreement with Georgia and the Army Corps of Engineers minutes before the board was set to hear the appeal Nov. 10. The board unanimously approved the compromise with little discussion.

"Making such a big decision without anything written in front of you, I think that is probably the biggest issue that sticks with me," said committee member Sen. Phil Shoopman, R-Greenville.

Tuesday's hearing lasted roughly 7 hours.

The committee agreed to ask four of the governor's staffers, including her chief of staff to appear before them; those staffers did not attend the hearing.

Haley has previously said they would be made available to meet with lawmakers one-on-one.

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