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The South Carolina Legislature has appropriated $8 million for the future Jasper Ocean Terminal in the budget bill it passed last month and local lawmakers who have pushed state port officials to move the project forward said they are pleased with the results.
“In all, the $8 million appropriation shows a strong commitment by both the Legislature and the governor to make the Jasper port a reality and there is every reason to believe there will be recurring appropriations for the port in future budgets,” said state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.
Davis said up to $5 million will be used by the S.C. Ports Authority to purchase property adjacent to Interstate 95 in Jasper County that is a portion of what is commonly referred to as the Sherwood Tract.
“As the proviso provides, the intent is for the SCPA to ‘develop the property in a manner that highlights the necessity of the Jasper Ocean Terminal.’ That is to say, a manufacturing facility that would rely upon that terminal for its import and export needs,” Davis said. “The remaining $3 million will be used to pay for permitting activities.”
Davis said the permitting activities will include several items, among them:
• A corporate governance model for the joint venture between South Carolina and Georgia.
• Working on plans, studies and modeling with South Carolina and Georgia transportation officials and the area’s metropolitan planning organization to identify and assess supporting road and rail infrastructure.
• Sedimentation modeling for impacts on construction and dredging.
“The proviso allows for the continuance of the pre-permitting process, which will lead to the filing of the necessary studies that, once approved, allows for the construction of the Jasper Ocean Terminal,” S.C. Ports Authority spokesperson Liz Crumley said. “The Joint Project Office is expected to meet later this month to discuss the FY2020 budget.”
Davis said the Jasper port is expected to be able to handle large container ships that the ports in Savannah and Charleston cannot because of channel depth or bridge height. Officials also have said the port will be needed when the Savannah and Charleston ports reach capacity.
S.C. Rep. Shedron Williams, D-Hampton, said it was an honor to be a part of the legislative group that advocated for the $8 million. He was one of several Lowcountry lawmakers, including Davis, Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, and Reps. Weston Newton Bill Herbkersman, who advocated for the appropriation request.
“This is going to be an everlasting, life-changing win-win for people, businesses and the education system,” Williams said. “I look forward to continuing to move this process forward and I would love to see that the project is completed much earlier than what has been predicted.”
Jasper County Council chairman Tom Johnson said he is pleased with the appropriation and remains “cautiously optimistic” about the port project. Last year, the S.C. Ports Authority changed the expected start date for construction of the port from 2025 to 2035 because of increased capacity in Charleston.
“They keep building more inland facilities,” Johnson said. “There is nothing wrong with an inland facility, but I don’t think Charleston will ever reach capacity and the capacity seems to be a moving target.”
County Council threatened last fall to sue the Ports Authority in response to the change in the port’s timeline. Johnson said the suit is still pending.
Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams said the appropriation demonstrates a commitment to the economic development of the Lowcountry.
“There are approximately 8,000 acres of undeveloped land under development agreements stretching from Exit 5 down to the southern city limits along (U.S.) 17,” Williams said. “The development of Sherwood is a key component for light industry, warehousing and logistics that can support both the (Jasper Ocean Terminal) and the Savannah port.”