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Conference set to settle Savannah dredging suits

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- A federal judge has scheduled a hearing to formally settle lawsuits challenging the $650 million deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel.

A tentative settlement was reached last month and U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel is slated to hold a hearing next Wednesday in Charleston.

Environmental groups and a South Carolina agency sued last year, contending deepening the 32-mile shipping channel will dredge up toxic cadmium.

Under the settlement, the Army Corps of Engineers would have to perform more mitigation, the Georgia Ports Authority would provide more than $25 million in conservation efforts and transfer 2,000 acres of salt marsh to South Carolina.

The plaintiffs could go back to court if tests of equipment designed to replenish oxygen in the water do not work.