Jasper Port looks forward to change

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COLUMBIA --- A "fair shake," a "breath of fresh air," a "deeper look": The Jasper Port is expected to enjoy these and other benefits when the South Carolina State Ports Authority comes under new leadership.

"It's like Barack Obama becoming president," said state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, whose district spans both Jasper and Charleston counties.

"It's a breath of fresh air at the Ports Authority," she said.

Last week the Ports Authority announced the resignation of its president and chief executive officer, Bernard Groseclose, who was appointed by the Ports Authority board in 1996. Board member John Hassell will serve as the interim leader.

Ms. Pinckney isn't the only one who predicts the Jasper Port, which some say could be in use by 2016, will be profoundly affected by a new state Ports Authority chief.

"I think the person can have a tremendous effect if they want to," said Ted Felder, the economic development director for the city of Hardeeville.

Still, others say development of the 1,500-acre site is more dependent on other factors unique to a project split between two states.

The Jasper site was acquired by the ports authorities of Georgia and South Carolina from the Georgia Department of Transportation, and the two have agreed to jointly develop a commercial port there.

The six-member board of directors of the Jasper Ocean Terminal Joint Project Office has representatives from both states, with the two ports authority chiefs serving only as non-voting members.

The challenge of working with another state, a global recession, and Charleston's political and commercial momentum all have contributed to the pace of Jasper's development, insiders say.

Critics found other reasons.

"There was such a feeling, right or wrong, that the (S.C.) Ports Authority was less than enthusiastic about Jasper," Mr. Felder said.

Local officials aren't the only ones hailing the change in leadership as the start of a new chapter for the Jasper Port.

The prospect of new leadership means the Jasper Port could "get a fair evaluation," compared with Charleston, said Nancy Vinson, the program director for the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League.

The environmental group has strongly advocated for the Jasper Port over an expansion of the Port of Charleston, citing a worsening of pollution and roadway congestion in Charleston.

Reach Sarita Chourey at (803) 727-4257 or sarita.chourey@morris.com.


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