The Terminal

September 25, 2010 by Post Team 

The Terminal, bumper stickers in this small town on the southern tip of South Carolina proclaimed “Jasper Puerto Now!” but will probably take decades to develop a major container port in Jasper County in South Carolina side of the Savannah River.

Meanwhile, a state lawmaker suggests a little “niche” port could provide jobs much faster.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said that a port is focused on ship traffic, smaller carriers and refrigerated food may reactivate the port in just three years.

It could also, he said, relieve some tension between Georgia and South Carolina, where Charleston and Savannah have long competed for companies shipping containers.

For over two decades, residents on the north side of the river have been waiting for a terminal, an idea floated by local leaders in late 1980.

“I hope that will happen, but who knows,” said Vickie Edenfield, who manages coastal supply and hardware in the U.S. 17 of the main street through downtown Hardeeville, a city known by many travelers as a simple refueling stop on busy Interstate 95.

Jasper County, where for many local travel time an hour or more round trip to work in Savannah, looked south to Georgia for jobs.

“They have had business all these years, why not give us a little about it?” Edenfield said.

After years of wrangling, the South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a memorandum of understanding in 2007 to develop a common port.

A joint committee was formed to develop a 1,500-acre port in Jasper County in South Carolina side of the river downstream of the savannah.

Then the recession hit and the shipping industry hit the rocks. Consultants have told the commission that the capacity of the vessel in Charleston and Savannah will probably not be achieved until 2024 so there is no immediate need for a new container port.

“The smart play, and play that makes the political and economic sense, is to go after non-container businesses in Jasper, they are not really the core of what Charleston and Savannah currently do,” said Davis.

He said that entrepreneurs are ready to begin operation of port site in a much smaller scale. Later, the focus could shift container business. Davis said the operation to start a container port in Jasper not initially be necessary dredging of shipping shallower draft.

Dean Moss, chairman of the Committee of Savannah in South Carolina Maritime said the commission has not taken a position on the Davis proposal. Moss said the idea of niche port “definitely worth it.”

“It has the advantage that essentially does not work in opposition to the existing container ports and can relieve some stress,” he said. “If possible, your guess is as good as mine.”

Much depends, said in a report expected the request of the Georgia Ports Authority for permits to deepen the river’s navigation channel.

For over a decade, since the permits were requested in 1998, the authorities have been trying to get approval and money to deepen the channel to the terminals of authority in Garden City, upstream from Savannah.

Next month, the U.S. Corps of Engineers to issue its long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement on the project and 588 million.

Some South Carolina lawmakers fear that if the dredging permit is approved, the Jasper Terminal never start.

If the river is dredged, the Georgia Ports Authority may extend its Garden City terminal, without a second terminal of Jasper, said state Sen. Larry boyfriends, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. But supporters say dredging permit that will benefit the Jasper site too.

It is left to local leaders asking where is the truth.

“When we talked with the Port Authority of South Carolina, what we hear is if Georgia get this permission, it will never be a Jasper Ocean Terminal,” said Ted Felder, the city manager in Hardeeville. “So when we talk with people from the Port Authority of Georgia we hear is that if we do not get this permit for dredging, it will never be a Jasper Ocean Terminal. You tell me what we do.”

He said the focus of the city is in storage and employment related to the industrial port. In the short term, this means that facilities serving Garden City and later, when Jasper comes online, to serve closer to the terminal.

“I just think the main thing is we have people who need jobs and they need now and want to go to work,” he said. Unemployment in the county, although among the lowest in the state, is still more than 10 percent.

After years of waiting, the optimism seems to be increasing in the South Carolina side of the river that a terminal is built.

And the Department of Transportation is making plans to expand U.S. 17 north from the foot of Talmadge Bridge leader in downtown Savannah. The road will be safer, but also ready for any future port.

Martin Goodman of Beaufort, regional director of the University of South Carolina Small Business Development Center, sees things moving in the right direction.

“Obviously the economic conditions of both states are creating problems,” he said. “There is not only a lot of money to do these things. But I think there is opportunity.”

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