Haley staffers to testify in probe of controversial decision to deepen Ga. port

Paul Conner | Executive Editor

Staffers for South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley will testify before a state senate committee investigating improper influence from the governor’s office in a controversial decision by a state agency, Haley confirmed Friday.

On September 30, Haley’s appointees to the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) denied requested permits by the Georgia Ports Authority to deepen the Port of Savannah. Dredging the port’s waterway would allow larger super-ships to enter the port, and critics say it would severely hurt the Port of Charleston in South Carolina.

A month later on November 2, DHEC reversed its earlier ruling and OK’d Georgia’s request. The committee wants to know if the governor’s office swayed DHEC’s decision and has subpoenaed four Haley staffers, an unprecedented move.

“These Senators will confirm, again, what we already know to be true: No one in the governor’s office had anything to do with the DHEC decision,” Haley wrote on her Facebook page.

WIS-TV in Columbia reported last weekend that Haley, her husband, three aides and a SLED agent flew on DHEC board member Kenyon Wells’ plane to the Georgia-South Carolina football game in Athens on September 10. The TV station also reported that another board member loaned his plane to Haley to fly to a fundraiser.

The website FITS News reported that Haley attended a fundraiser in Atlanta less than two weeks before the DHEC decision with a member of the Georgia Ports Authority in attendance. The fundraiser landed $15,000 in Haley’s re-election coffers.

The decision surprised many in South Carolina who watched Haley campaign on intensely competitive rhetoric against Georgia in her 2010 campaign. In stump speeches, she repeatedly told crowds that she would work hard to compete with and defeat Georgia in the ports competition.

Haley has defended DHEC’s decision, saying “you don’t undercut people in order to beat them; you beat them by winning.” She strongly denied Friday that her staff pressured the agency in its decision and said that the committee members are trying to “flex their political muscle.”

“All DHEC board members and DHEC staff have said under oath that the Governor and the Governor’s staff did not in any way influence their decision,” Haley said. “What a complete waste of time and taxpayer dollars. Take note.”

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