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Georgia Wants Time to Analyze $5B Jasper Ocean Terminal Deal with South Carolina

Thu August 26, 2021 - Southeast Edition

This file photo shows the location where the bi-state Jasper Ocean Terminal would be located along the Back River in Jasper County, S.C (Georgia Ports Authority photo)
This file photo shows the location where the bi-state Jasper Ocean Terminal would be located along the Back River in Jasper County, S.C (Georgia Ports Authority photo)

The Jasper Ocean Terminal (JOT), a long-planned $5 billion seaport expected to improve the economy of the rural South Carolina Lowcountry, is likely delayed again as Georgia officials want more time to consider whether to partner with Jasper County, S.C., on the project.

The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) had until Sept. 1 to decide whether to work with the Jasper County Council on the port, expected to be one of the world's largest and most technologically advanced, or expand the Savannah port onto Georgia's Hutchinson Island.

Now, the deadline is likely to be Dec. 31, according to newly drafted agreements, The Center Square, a nationwide and regional online news source, reported.

The JOT project is designed to be a new facility that would begin operation after the Charleston and Savannah ports reach capacity. Plans call for the terminal to be an evenly split joint venture between each of the two states' ports authorities.

GPA and South Carolina Ports Authority (SCSPA) formed the JOT Joint Project Office in 2008 to develop a bi-state owned and operated port facility in the Palmetto State, 8.5 mi. downstream from Garden City, Ga., on a 1,500-acre site widely considered to be the best remaining undeveloped port site on the East Coast.

Earlier this year, as the SCSPA asked for more than $500,000 in additional funding to continue building out the Charleston ports — instead of starting work on the Jasper site — Georgia began eyeing Hutchinson Island, just across the Savannah River from downtown Savannah, as an alternative site for a new shipping terminal.

In addition, GPA is pondering a plan to raise the Talmadge Bridge over the river to allow larger container ships into the Georgia port city.

To keep JOT moving forward, South Carolina State Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican, helped arrange a deal for the SCSPA to hand over its half of the agreement to Jasper County last March, according to an Aug. 24 report in The Center Square.

Georgia officials, though, have not yet agreed to work with the county, the news outlet noted. Earlier in August, Paul Threlkeld, an attorney for GPA, wrote Jasper County attorney David Tedder asking for an extension.

The Georgia agency "will not be prepared to officially either offer or withhold its consent," Threlkeld wrote in the Aug. 12 letter, adding that the Sept. 1 deadline seems "arbitrary." He added that Georgia officials are "still studying issues" related to Jasper County's assumption of South Carolina's rights and responsibilities.

All three parties, though, are expected to agree to a Dec. 31 deadline.

"I think we finally cut the Gordian knot," Davis said about shifting ownership from his state's ports authority to Jasper County. The senator, a tireless advocate for JOT's development since it was first announced in 2007, noted that he has "been working on this for almost 20 years, so I would like to see things happen, but I understand things take time."

He speculated that Georgia likely had concerns about "putting faith in its competitor," but he added that Jasper County is a "passive investor" and a "willing partner" that wants the port and the benefits that will come from it.

"This makes all the economic sense in the world," Davis noted. "All the impediments have been addressed, and there's a compelling case for this to move forward."

JOT Could Be a Massive Economic Driver

The Washington Post recently featured the Jasper Ocean Terminal as one of 10 projects that could benefit from the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package that has passed the Senate.

The project was notable, it said, because it would have the capacity to transfer eight million 20-ft. cargo containers a year and meet the southeast's cargo demand through at least mid-century. The drawback, according to the Post, is that South Carolina and Georgia would need to make substantial improvements to nearby highways and rail lines that feed into the new shipping terminal.

According to analyses, construction between 2025-35 would create 900 direct jobs with an estimated $81 million payroll. JOT also is projected to create one million high-paying jobs nationwide between 2040-50, according to the Post, while generating $9 billion in revenue for South Carolina and Georgia.

The project's construction, however, has been delayed repeatedly to at least 2035, with 2040 and beyond also suggested by the SCSPA, which said there will not be enough container cargo traffic to justify expansion until mid-century.

Davis and other South Carolina lawmakers said SCSPA's decision to build the new Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal in North Charleston, which doubled that port's capacity, is what set JOT back a decade and prompted GPA to consider alternatives to the joint project. The Leatherman facility opened earlier this year.

According to the JOT Project Environmental Impact Statement filed last December by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the proposed terminal's potential annual capacity, equivalent to approximately 35 years of forecast growth in containerized cargo, is large enough to meet cargo demand for the entire southeast through 2055.

The shipping facility is planned to include:

  • A 12,500-ft.-long pile supported wharf.
  • A four-lane divided highway to connect to the terminal and a 210-ft.-wide berth.
  • A 790-ft.-wide access channel between the proposed berth and the Savannah Harbor Federal Navigation Channel.
  • A 2,200-ft. turning basin to accommodate the newest neo-Panamax and ultra-large container vessels.
  • A rail yard with double- and single-track rail to connect the terminal site to existing CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern rail lines.
  • A container storage yard.
  • Administrative buildings and equipment service facilities.
  • A new rail bridge across the Back River, on the north side of Hutchinson Island near U.S. Highway 17, and across the Savannah River upstream of Georgia's Garden City Terminal.

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