Jasper Port Officials Tread Carefully on Harbor Deepening Plans
By Sarita Chourey
Morris News Service
March 22, 2012 — CHARLESTON -- A thumbs-up for a new plan for heaping dredge material from Georgia's harbor deepening isn't necessarily a thumbs-up for the controversial deepening project that would produce that material.
And that's a necessary distinction amid the sensitive discussions over how to build a $4 billion ocean terminal to be shared by Georgia and South Carolina along a river that has placed the two states at odds for more than a year.
On Monday members of the bi-state Jasper Ocean Terminal board gave its support to the new dredge-spoils plan, which also received cooperation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Meanwhile, the South Carolina Legislature's opposition to Georgia's $650 million Savannah Harbor Expansion Project rages on, as does the the legal challenge leveled by the legislature's creation, the Savannah River Maritime Commission.
Under Monday's new proposal, most of the 13.5 million cubic yards of dredge material to be extracted from the the river would be deposited onto the spot in Jasper County marked for the terminal's first phase. Previously, the material was to be spread roughly evenly across two pieces of land as a way to raise the Jasper site's elevation, avoid $330 million cost of importing materials, and give the dredged matter a place to go.
The change -- concentrating the material on the location of the first phase instead of spreading it further -- is expected to defer nearly $200 million in construction costs toward the completion of the terminal.
But does that mean the bi-state board gave an implicit endorsement of Georgia's harbor deepening?
"Absolutely not," said board chairman Jim Balloun of Georgia, in an interview after Monday's Jasper port meeting.
"We're the Jasper Ocean Terminal board," he said. "We're not for SHEP or against SHEP. We're just trying to take full advantage of SHEP in the event it happens."
Bill Bethea, one of South Carolina's three voting members of the Jasper board, agreed and called the position "neutral."
"This action was not in favor of or against SHEP," said Bethea in an interview after Monday's meeting.
"It simply says if there is a SHEP project and if this material is available, it'll be disposed of in this fashion."
But South Carolina legislators argue that placing dredge spoils on the Jasper site hurts the terminal's chances of becoming a reality and only cements the corps' easement on the land.
The Jasper board is a six-member panel overseeing plans for the shared terminal, which is planned for a 1,500-acre site in Jasper County. The port is intended to strengthen the two states' economies by drawing overflow commerce -- preventing cargo from going to other ports on the East coast after harbors in Charleston and Savannah reach capacity.
South Carolina lawmakers contend that SHEP, which would deepen 38 miles of the Savannah River from 42 feet to 48 to prepare the Savannah harbor for post-Panamax ships after 2014, would eliminate the need for a Jasper terminal and disqualify the site by keeping it a perpetual dumping ground for dredge spoils.
Supporters of the harbor deepening contend the opposite.
This story submitted from Chourey, Sarita using email address email@example.com