AS WE'VE SEEN with the ongoing controversy over who will be the next city manager, the confluence of race and politics is no longer the taboo subject in Savannah that it once was.
But one taboo remains.
If you want to get into a loud argument in this town -- I mean bordering on a screaming match if you want one -- just go up to a crowd of people and say something like this:
"I don't think it's a good investment for citizens to pay to deepen the Savannah River again. There are just too many risks involved. The Georgia Ports Authority will just have to make do with what they've got, like everyone else nowadays."
After the crowd lifts their dropped jaws and their eyes return to normal size, the verbal assault will begin:
"So you want to lose 10,000 jobs?"
"You want Charleston (or Jacksonville, or New York, or fill in the blank) to get those jobs instead?"
"Without the port Savannah will DIE!!"
"What are you, some kind of communist?"
As with any discussion with fundamentalists of any stripe, there's little room for a nuanced response, such as "the entire port won't close down if we don't deepen the river," or "Savannah has a diversified economy in addition to the port," or "why are you guys against all taxes except the ones that fund harbor deepening?"
In her somewhat tongue-in-cheek letter in this issue, Katharine Otto points out the most egregious issues involving deepening the river to 48 feet: More riverbank erosion due to increased volume of water; further devastation of the environment, including salinization of our drinking supply; possible toxic waste in the dredge material slated for Tybee Island "renourishment"; and the effect of aggressively pro-import policies on an already disastrous U.S. trade deficit, to name a few.
(Did you know the Corps of Engineers, as part of "maintenance dredging", already makes the river about 48 feet deep to account for silt buildup? Don't hear much about that, do you?)
While we now have extensive Corps research examining these and other issues - this from the same organization responsible for the dreaded "tidal gate," the botched legacy of a previous deepening - it seems no one is pointing out the real emperor-has-no-clothes aspect of harbor deepening:
If cargo vessels are getting larger and larger, as deepening advocates constantly warn us, won't they eventually get too big for a port that's over 20 miles upriver from the ocean?
And if so, won't we have wasted all that taxpayer money, eroded more of downtown's riverbank, and possibly poisoned our water supply basically for nothing?
This ain't rocket science. When you think of a "port," is the first thing you imagine a facility that's over 20 miles from the ocean up a winding river with a wide tidal fluctuation?
Is it really "communist" to point that out? Or just very, very basic common sense?
As for this silly competition between cities, how about we just say, "You know what? If Charleston wants to destroy their environment in exchange for bringing in more cheap Chinese imports, maybe that will be Savannah's competitive advantage in the future."
I once naively thought that a silver lining of the rise of the Tea Party is that huge taxpayer-funded projects like the Savannah River harbor deepening might get a skeptical look.
But new governor Nathan Deal has promised that not only will federal tax dollars go to deepen the river, your state tax dollars will too. Needless to say, Savannah area congressmen Jack Kingston and John Barrow fully support your financial support of the project!
Think about it: The Savannah River was about 18 feet deep when Gen. James Oglethorpe first visited its shores. We are now proposing to make it at least 30 feet deeper.
When does it end? The Savannah River is already expanded to its limits, both in depth (the Floridan Aquifer, our water supply, is right under the channel) and width (talk to non-GPA industries on the river about how they've been impacted by riverbank erosion).
Logic and physics dictate that there must eventually be an end to harbor deepening. Whether a good or a bad end is up to us.
Isn't it also logical that we be allowed to at least discuss it?
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.