Is it, as Jasper County officials contend, “permit paralysis”?
Or is it rather perspicacious planning in preparation for a new cargo ship terminal to be shared by Georgia and South Carolina?
It is more than understandable that one of the state’s poorest counties, with one of the highest rates of unemployment, wants to see the Jasper port developed.
Understandable, but unrealistic.
The proposed Jasper port is, at this point, still a concept. The challenges that must be met before turning the first spade of dirt are myriad.
A new economic study commissioned by the Joint Project Office representing Georgia and South Carolina indicates that a terminal in Jasper County would make sense financially. It concluded that the terminal could be finished by 2026 — not long before ports in Savannah and Charleston begin to run out of capacity.
But the Georgia/South Carolina authority has wisely agreed to spend $748,000 on studies and consulting work in the next year.
Planning for a $3.3 billion port project must not — and likely cannot — be cut short. Permits cannot be acquired without a firm plan for highway and rail access, environmental mitigation, public input and funding.
Indeed, Jasper County officials should be pleased that a port on the Savannah River is being seen as a long-term investment — an initiative that would benefit the county and state far into the future.
The timing is important — not just because of the impact it is expected to have on the local economy, but because it must be in sync with existing ports in Charleston and Savannah.
The Jasper port is not intended to be competition for those, but rather to augment them when they have met their capacity.
That’s one reason South Carolina State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome raised the issue of the Savannah River’s depth.
The state of Georgia plans to deepen the shipping channel to 47 feet. But the new generation of mega ships, he said, draw more than that.
Charleston port officials want the Charleston Harbor channel deepened to 50 feet. Perhaps the Savannah River’s depth should be reconsidered.
South Carolina and Georgia share an advantageous place. They are cooperating. They have a promising site. Projections indicate there is enough business to make the port profitable.
But trying to rush through the preliminary work would be a big mistake — and could threaten the long-term viability of the planned Jasper terminal.