It appears the Savannah River can handle a second major container port.
A joint board from South Carolina and Georgia developing a $3 billion container ship terminal learned Thursday that a capacity study indicates the river can handle ships from both the existing Georgia ports and the planned Jasper Ocean Terminal. The study should be finalized this summer.
The board is working together to develop the 1,500-acre Jasper terminal on the South Carolina side of the river just downstream from Savannah. The idea is to have the new terminal operational when the existing ports in Savannah and Charleston run out of capacity.
"There are no red flags" from the study said James Balloun, of Georgia and chairman of the joint board. He said the board hopes to apply for a federal permit for the new terminal in September next year.
While time schedules can be uncertain, officials expect the new port could be permitted, built and operational by around 2030.
The river capacity study being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considers everything from the width and depth of the river, tides, the size of ships and space at the terminals to determine how many ships the river can accommodate.
"By the end of the study we will have a basic understanding of the impact of adding Jasper to the river," said Michael Rieger of the consulting firm of Moffatt & Nichol told the board as he updated members on the study's progress.
He said that before the federal permit can be sought several tasks need to be completed.
They include additional design work and a more detailed plan of where the terminal will link with U.S. 17 and railroads. There also needs to be tests of soil and river sediment. In addition, a study of the economic impact of the terminal, including the jobs and taxes it will create in Jasper County, one of the poorest in South Carolina, is required.
Jim Newsome, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority, said the board should also conduct a more extensive financial analysis of the port operation and how it will be financed.
"This is one of the largest terminal projects of its type in the United States," he said. "At some point we need a more sophisticated financial analysis."
Balloun agreed such a study needs to be done "sooner rather than later."