I read with interest your Saturday editorial about Gov. Haley’s budget vetoes, particularly the part that dealt with her vetoes of the two Jasper port provisos. The South Carolina Senate overwhelming refused to override those two vetoes (by votes of 11 to 25 and 7 to 29) because they constituted an illegal attempt by the General Assembly to amend a bi-state contract between the South Carolina State Ports Authority and the Georgia Ports Authority to plan the development of an ocean marine terminal on the Savannah River. This bi-state contract has previously been incorporated into permanent law by the S.C. General Assembly (See, S.C. Code Section 54-3-115).
Among other things, the bi-state contract sets forth a specific governance structure for the joint venture between the two state ports authorities: a six-member governing board (the Joint Project Office, or JPO) comprised of two individuals appointed by the SCSPA, two by the GPA and one each by the governors of South Carolina and Georgia. It also states that capital obligations of the two joint-venture partners in regard to planning the port are to be determined by a majority vote of its board.The Jasper port provisos sought to amend this method of governance by conditioning the SCSPA’s payment of its financial obligations on two of the three South Carolina members of the board voting in the affirmative.
I am unaware of any other instance where the General Assembly, through legislation, has sought to amend the terms of any contract voluntarily entered into between two parties, let alone one that, as in this case, had been incorporated by it as part of permanent law. The bi-state agreement provides that any amendment thereto must be in writing and signed by the contracting parties. Accordingly, if the provisos were enacted into law, such would arguably constitute a material breach of the bi-state contract that triggered default remedies, one of which is a right of repurchase of the Jasper port site by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Proponents of the provisos argued that they were necessary to protect the Port of Charleston from competition by the Port of Savannah — that the GPA’s attempt to deepen the Savannah River from the mouth of the river to its Garden City terminal would somehow be facilitated unless the JPO’s governance structure was amended to provide the SCSPA with control. Your editorial seems to accept that premise, characterizing the Jasper port provisos as attempts to change the conditions under which South Carolina would provide support for “the Georgia port project.”
But that’s a false premise. The JPO is already prohibited by existing state law from speaking on South Carolina’s behalf in regard to matters pertaining to the GPA’s proposed deepening of the Savannah River. Authority in that regard clearly resides with the Savannah River Maritime Commission. Moreover, the bi-state agreement provides the cost of dredging the Savannah River and disposing of the spoil is solely a Georgia obligation, unless the legislatures in the two states agree otherwise in an interstate compact.
I support the Port of Charleston, and I was one of the first to advocate the General Assembly set aside $300 million in general funds to cover both the state’s and the federal government’s share of the harbor-deepening cost. And I was outraged when the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control green-lighted the GPA’s plan to deepen the Savannah River to its Garden City terminal without properly considering the negative economic and environmental impacts to South Carolina.
But to cripple the prospects of a Jasper port in a fit of anger over a DHEC dereliction is unjustified, unfair and illegal to boot. At some point the Port of Charleston’s container capacity will be exhausted, and future generations of South Carolinians will be well served by today’s planning for a future Jasper port. The provisos would have negatively impacted that planning, and that’s why the vast majority of state senators — including the majority of those representing the of the Port of Charleston vicinity — rejected them.
Tom Davis is a state senator representing Beaufort County.