Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Ryan Holifield

Committee Members

Anne Bonds, Kennan Ferguson, Tracey Heatherington, Kristin Sziarto


Adaptive Management, Environmental Justice, Water Quality


In this dissertation research, I investigate three interrelated conflicts which emerged as part of an environmental impact assessment along the Savannah River in the late 1990s: a controversial plan to improve water quality through supplemental oxygen injection; a lengthy struggle over federal funding policies that constrained efforts to address scientific uncertainty; and an entrenched refusal to investigate human health risks from air toxics at the Port of Savannah. In each of these conflicts, I trace the dismantling of controversy, investigating how, and with what effect, the slow and tedious work of building consensus has reshaped the governance of the lower Savannah River. Drawing on extensive archival and ethnographic work in Savannah, Georgia, I find that different constitutions, manipulations, and deployments of space--in the form of habitat suitability maps or containerized cargo forecast projections--enabled long-standing and intensified controversies to be channeled into consensus. In doing so, I argue that environmental impact assessment in Savannah is aimed at constituting the city and the river as sites of both modern industrial port operations and sleepy, moss-covered, bucolic Southern landscapes, in a tension-filled effort to remain articulated with both the tremendous flows of financial capital from global shipping and historic tourism that converge on the city. First, my analysis of efforts to improve water quality through supplemental oxygen highlights the intricate spatial arrangements necessary to make these efforts work. Next, my study of adaptive management politics reveals the ways in which memory and its material traces erode institutional risk-aversion, opening new opportunities for better resource management and increased ecological resilience. Lastly, my investigation of air toxics at the Port of Savannah reveals how different constructions of space are combined, intersected, and overlapped in ways that erase human health risks and construct compliance with federal environmental justice policy. Taken together, these conflicts suggest that space serves as a strategic resource in environmental impact assessments, contributing to how problems get defined and solutions get proposed. Further, this research underlines the need for greater attention to the active role of spatial constructs--boundaries, networks, scales, or pathways--in environmental impact assessment practice and policy.

Included in

Geography Commons