Haley urges funding for S.C.-Ga. port project

The Talmadge Memorial Bridge in Savannah is visible from the site of the future Jasper Ocean Terminal, to be built on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. File

As the long-planned Jasper Ocean Terminal moves toward the permitting phase, Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday urged state lawmakers to start thinking about banking funds for the $4.5 billion port that South Carolina and Georgia will build along the Savannah River.

“We have always in South Carolina tried to be in front of things,” Haley said after hearing an update on the project that will be jointly owned and operated by the two states. “We need to get in front of Jasper. We need to put the money up front.”

Haley compared the Jasper container terminal to the Charleston Harbor deepening, noting that state lawmakers put aside $300 million years in advance to assure the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress that South Carolina was in full support of the plan. The project is expected to be authorized by Congress this year.

Money spent on the Jasper terminal so far has been minimal — about $10 million split between the two states for preliminary planning and permit work. The project is about to enter a second, more expensive, phase where an environmental impact study, public hearings and a final record of decision will be completed. Michael Rieger of consultant Moffatt & Nichol said about $100 million will be needed for that work. The bulk of expenses will occur during the construction phase next decade.

“We’re going to start the regulation phase, we’re going to start the permitting phase, and by fall, we look forward to getting some consultants on board so we can do further studies,” Haley said. “This was everybody coming together to say it’s not if, it’s when. And to say we need this done yesterday.”

Haley said she believes there is support in the Legislature for the project.

“I think the Legislature has gone beyond regional issues,” she said. “They get that what’s good for Charleston is good for Jasper and what’s good for Jasper is good for Greenville ... we have to reform the system so it’s not just about regional horse trading. It’s about a statewide plan. And when you have a statewide plan, everybody wins.”

Rieger and Nat Ball, project manager for the Army Corps in Charleston, updated Haley, lawmakers and members of the boards of directors for ports in South Carolina and Georgia on the Jasper project during a special meeting at the Jasper County government offices.

Rieger said the Jasper Ocean Terminal needs to be finished before the Port of Charleston and the Port of Savannah reach their cargo limits, expected to happen in about nine years.

The first phase of the new terminal, to be built on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River about 10 miles upriver from Savannah Harbor, will have two berths with a 55-foot depth that can handle ships carrying as many as 20,000 cargo boxes — about 6,000 more cargo boxes than the ports in Charleston and Savannah can accommodate.

The terminal will have a rail system that can be accessed by CSX on a northern route and Norfolk Southern on a southern route, and it will have a road system that will accommodate about 7,500 trucks per day.

It will be the nation’s largest terminal at buildout, with capacity for 7 million cargo containers. Ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., are the nation’s largest with about 6.5 million cargo boxes each year spread over 14 container terminals. The Port of Charleston handles about 2 million cargo boxes each year at its three container terminals.

“There is no terminal in the U.S. that even approaches the size of what this is going to be,” Rieiger said.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, called the new terminal “an exciting project.

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“The ports of Savannah and Charleston have been the two fastest-growing ports in the United States since 2010,” Newsome said. “We’re going to need new capacity.”

The once-contentious project is moving forward without any of the turf battles and acrimony that officials from both states expressed early in the process.

State Rep. Bill Bowers, D-Hampton, one of the first legislators to push for a port in Jasper, said he couldn’t help but get emotional seeing the progress that’s being made.

“This has been a long journey,” he said, recalling when he and the late lawmaker Clementa Pinckney, who was born in Ridgeland, were met with resistance from ports officials and others when they first proposed the Jasper port project more than a decade ago.

“We’ve come full circle,” Bowers said. “This is what we envisioned that day. We’re going to make Jasper County a great county in this state when we take the lead on interglobal transportation.”

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550.