Savannah — WSAV
On a beautiful day like today, you can find hundreds of people out and about, walking through downtown Savannah. Bay Street, MLK Boulevard — streets flooded with people everywhere. Something you’ll also see on these streets, if you look closely, trucks. And, lots of them. Many of them hauling dangerous chemicals that could, without exaggeration, potentially wipe out, eliminate, entire blocks, in an instant.
“Bay Street is our major East West corridor, DeRenne is another one, and you think about it, all these trucks are coming through here, what are they carrying?” says Savannah Alderman Van Johnson. “It’s ignorant to say we don’t know, but we don’t know everything that’s being transported through these trucks.”
“There is a very significant hazardous materials threat in Chatham County. We have millions and millions of pounds of hazardous chemicals throughout Chatham County and that’s just what’s reported to us,” says CEMA Director Dennis Jones.
The total from last year? Over 3.9 billion pounds. And, a lot of it is transported by rail, boat, and tanker truck. But, we’re not telling you anything new, really. This was all studied back in 2010.
“For us, it was a major problem because for some people would say it’s not flammable, but if it is, essentially what you would have, a mile from the explosion could be taken out,” says Johnson.
Now, seven years later, what has changed? News 3 camped out for several hours over two days along Bay and MLK. You can guess what we found. A lot of trucks on the same streets carrying the same hazardous materials.
“I think it’s one issue that we didn’t know what to do with,” says Johnson.
Just take a look around town, they’re not hard to find. Federal law requires hazardous trucks to display this type of red, triangular plackard on their vehicles. This four digit number is used to identify the hazardous material inside the truck’s container. There are hundreds of four digit numbers for a variety of materials. Should city leaders force these types of trucks to take different, safer routes — away from our neighborhoods?
“The only alternative is to move the Bay Street traffic on to interior streets, which everyone would probably agree is not workable,” says Johnson.
If the worst were to happen today. Would the county be ready?
“I think so, the plans are in place, the emergency response community is well trained,” says Jones.
And, as for the city, what changes can we expect them to make to help prevent a disaster from happening in our community?
“It would be a good opportunity for us to revisit this now, with a new lens, fresh eyes and determine what can be done, if anything,” says Johnson.
Following our interview with Alderman Johnson, he sent a letter to the council and the City Manager informing them that he plans to reintroduce this matter during a future council meeting.
He hopes the council will be able to take action this time around. WSAV will keep you posted.