Haley denies influence in DHEC-Savannah ports decision

Published: Nov. 30, 2011 at 10:58 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2011 at 10:58 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - More questions have arisen over Gov. Nikki Haley's relationship with Department of Health and Environmental Control board members and their decision to approve a permit for the Savannah ports.

Monday, Gov. Haley held a press conference to deny that she had any influence in the decision.

"I stand by everything and I know it's unfortunate in this political world, everybody likes to think there's something behind everything," said Haley. "There's nothing here."

Months ago, DHEC denied Savannah a permit to dredge the river leading into its port. Then, three weeks ago DHEC's board approved the permit.

An investigation has uncovered plane rides and large campaign contributions that some say show a cozy relationship between Gov. Haley and the DHEC board.

Flight records show Gov. Haley flew on DHEC board member Kenyon Wells' plane to the Georgia-South Carolina football game on Sept. 10. Onboard were Wells, his wife, the governor and Michael Haley, three governor staffers and a SLED agent.

Gov. Haley's flight logs also show DHEC Chairman Allen Amsler loaned the governor his plane to fly to Georgetown for a fundraiser.

That flight came exactly one month before DHEC would approve the Savannah port permit.

Gov. Haley appointed Wells and Amsler to the DHEC board in April.

The flight records show both men provided at least five flights between April and October, even during the time DHEC worked out Georgia's dredging permit details.

Democrat Senate Caucus spokesman Phil Bailey says it's easy to see what's going on.

"It's cronyism, it's pay-to-play politics, and unfortunately our state's economy is suffering," said Bailey. "The Port of Charleston stands to lose big on this deal."

Gov. Haley attended a fundraising event in Georgia just two weeks before DHEC approved the Georgia dredging permit. The event raised money from Georgia businesses to fund Gov. Haley's 2014 re-election campaign.

Before Gov. Haley appointed them to the DHEC board, campaign records show that Kenyon Wells and his family gave the governor $50,000, while DHEC Chair Allen Amsler gave $3,000.

A third DHEC board member and Gov. Haley-appointee gave the governor $570 in 2010.

"This is a governor that promised to be different, to change the status quo, to shake up the good ol' boy system, but look what we have is her stacking an important oversight board with her political cronies," said Bailey. "People that let her use their private aircraft and fly her all over the state to fundraisers. It looks bad and it's just another example of Haley hypocrisy."

We reached out to Gov. Haley to explain the flights. Her spokesman gave us a statement that says in part: "Every member of the DHEC board testified under oath yesterday that neither the governor nor any member of her staff influenced the decision regarding Savannah's ports in any way."

It went on to say the Haleys have been good friends with the Amslers and Wells for years.

As for the two board members themselves, Amsler released a statement Tuesday saying it was offensive for anyone to suggest there was influence. Wells has yet to respond to the allegations.

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