Are the Beaches of Tybee Safe from the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project?

The Atlanta Chapter and Georgia Coastal Low Country Chapter of Surfrider Foundation have been closely watching  the ongoing developments with the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP).

Background

On January 24, 2011, we submitted comments on the project during the public comment period for the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). We also spoke with City of Tybee Island representatives. On March 4, 2011, Steve Combs attended the 23rd Annual Red Clay Conference Coastal Change: A “Shore” Thing examining development and the environment on the Georgia Coast. At the conference, Steve spoke with Otis Johnson, Mayor of Savannah and relayed Surfrider Foundation’s concern with the  impact on Tybee beaches from dredging required for the project.

As stated in the Chapter’s comments to the draft EIS, our position is that placing dredging materials in nearshore locations would have the following negative consequences:

  • Decrease the natural wave energy in these locations and eliminate natural sources of recreation for the public.
  • Have potential safety implications on swimmers, surfers, fishermen, lifeguards, and others.
  • Increase environmental and ecological impact in sensitive onshore and nearshore areas,including from dredging materials washing up on beaches.
  • Produce a negative economic impact on Tybee Island due to reduced tourism.

Update

The U.S. Corps of Engineers is expected to issue a new draft of the Environmental Impact Statement in June 2011. An updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) dated March 25, 2011 has been made publicly available at http://www.sas.usace.army.mil/shexpan/documents/SHEPFAQs.pdf. However, the Project Updates page still includes a link to the December 8, 2010. It’s not clear if the 2011 FAQ is a final document.  The 2011 FAQ includes the following related to Tybee:

20) How are you taking into the account the City of Tybee Island’s concerns about impacts to the beach from the channel?

• We previously determined that the ship channel, as it has existed since the mid-1970s, contributes between 70-80 percent of the reduction in the coastal littoral sediment supply volume to the Tybee shelf and shoreline. This sediment is composed of sands, silts and clays. Further deepening will not change those existing conditions.

• Dredged material was never proposed for the beach re-nourishment. Instead suitable material was to be used for near-shore disposal — about one mile from the shore — in order help prevent erosion of the beach. We developed our initial proposal in coordination with officials from Tybee Island and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. However, it was always a proposal and on Jan. 20, 2011, the Tybee Council voted to reject the near-shore placement of dredged material.

• The Corps will instead use a pre-designated off-shore disposal area for material dredged from the outer channel. We had already planned to place much of the outer channel material in this location anyway.

We hope the next draft of the EIS will reflect this position outlined in the 2011 FAQ. Surfrider Foundation is continuing to review other environmental impacts related to SHEP. Please keep an eye on our STOP – Save Tybee’s Ocean Playground campaign page for additional updates.

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