Jasper port timeline in question Conditions may push need past 2029

Newsome

The massive shipping port proposed for the South Carolina side of Savannah River was estimated to be needed by 2029.

But that timeline from a 2008 market study could get pushed back.

The reasons include the slowdown within once burgeoning export economies and the lingering hangover from the last recession.

“What has changed a bit is the speed at which China is losing its competitive position as the world’s largest manufacturer as well as the fact that U.S. consumers haven’t recovered half as well as we would have liked after 2009,” said Walter Kemmsies, the chief economist at Moffat & Nichols.

Kemmsies made the statement as part of his presentation to the Jasper Ocean Terminal Project Office, the bistate commission charged with planning the $5 billion port in Jasper County.

The agency’s board met Monday at the S.C. State Ports Authority headquarters in Charleston. Among other actions, it approved a new market study, which is expected to be completed by next year. One of the goals is to reassess whether and when the terminal will be economically viable.

The Jasper port is a joint venture between the states of South Carolina and Georgia, longtime rivals in the Southeast maritime trade.

Some board members expressed concern about the previous schedule, which was based on outdated growth assumptions for the ports of Charleston and Savannah.

SPA CEO Jim Newsome, who attended the meeting but is not a member of the Jasper board, said he believes the port won’t be needed before 2029, citing “my back-of-the-envelope” estimate.

Terminal Project Office chairman Jim Balloun of Georgia said a 2029 opening date was an estimate. No construction money will be spent until it’s clear the terminal will be financially viable, Balloun said.

A more accurate estimate of when the terminal might be open “will come into focus over the next five to 10 years,” he added.

The Jasper Ocean Terminal was conceived in 2008 for a 1,500-acre site that is now a dredge spoil area downriver from the Port Savannah.

The project is still in the early planning stages and has become tangled in controversy over a plan to deepen the river to support Savannah, a key rival for the Port of Charleston. Charleston also is looking for federal dollars to deepen it shipping channel.

Both ports want to be able to compete for the wave of longer, heavier containerships that are projected to come to the East Coast once the Panama Canal is expanded in about two years.

The Jasper commission also on Monday approved a budget based on $1.4 million in operating revenue for the next fiscal year, a cost shared between the SPA and Georgia Ports Authority. The budget addresses expenses such as engineering and professional services.

The panel also agreed to draft a proposal for a $1 million capacity study of the port, an expense to be funded evenly by both states.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.