Georgia, South Carolina officials debate future of Jasper Port

Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009 1:24 PM
Last updated 1:27 PM
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COLUMBIA -- Officials from Jasper and Beaufort counties pressed the Savannah River Maritime Commission to make the Jasper Port a higher priority, during the commission's meeting on Tuesday.

The sharpest concerns were raised by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who played an key role in representing South Carolina during negotiations between Georgia and South Carolina when he was chief of staff to Gov. Mark Sanford.

Jasper County officials have said they'd like to see the port project finished by 2014-16, but officials on Tuesday frequently mentioned 2024 as the expected completion date.

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

"I can tell you ... 2024 is not going to be acceptable to the Legislature of South Carolina," Davis said. "It's not going to be acceptable to, I don't think, the two governors of South Carolina and Georgia. ... I don't think it's in accordance with the intergovernmental agreement."

Jasper County Council Chairman George Hood echoed Davis' concerns and urged stakeholders of the Jasper Port project to have a meeting this May in Jasper County.

But some officials don't see any unique hurdles to the completion of the Jasper Port.

They say the pace of the terminal project reflects its vast scope and complexity.

"This is unlike anything we've done before," said Bert Brantley, spokesman for Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who did not attend Tuesday's commission meeting. "Just getting to the point we've gotten to now has been incredibly complex in trying to create an entity that will function and operate and will serve the region as a whole ... ."

Brantley said the port of Savannah would eventually hit its maximum shipping volume, and when that happens the region will be ready with the Jasper Port.

"The great thing about the Jasper Port is it has the potential to pick up that (new shipping volume) and continue to have a huge economic impact on the region."

Tuesday's commission meeting also included summaries of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, a presentation from the Georgia Ports Authority and a report from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which listed a handful of environmental projects.

The commission represents the South Carolina in negotiations with the State of Georgia and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

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

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