The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) board voted Tuesday to suspend funding on a proposed new container terminal in Jasper County, S.C., on the north bank of the Savannah River and downstream from the Port of Savannah.
The proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal is a joint project of South Carolina and Georgia, but the SCPA board said it "concluded that it is not feasible to build a multi-billion-dollar Jasper Ocean Terminal under current and proposed conditions."
The board then went on to criticize efforts to deepen the Savannah River to the Georgia Ports Authority's Garden City Terminal - the so-called Savannah Harbor Expansion Project - and said "deepening of the Savannah River up to the future Jasper Ocean Terminal should be an alternative to the currently proposed deepening project."
In a press release, the SCPA board said it had "discussed how the proposed Savannah River deepening project would be insufficient to handle the larger container ships that already call the U.S. East Coast and that are expected to increase with the expansion of the Panama Canal."
"The proposed Savannah River deepening was probably fine when first conceived in 1999, but today's global shipping environment requires more," said Bill Stern, SCPA chairman.
In a November state-of-the-port speech, Jim Newsome, president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority, argued the Port of Charleston is the "best value for money for the nation in South Atlantic harbor deepening" and said Charleston was the only South Atlantic port in future, besides Miami, capable of meeting the needs of shipping companies that want to fully load exports.
An Army Corps of Engineers study is looking at the possibility of deepening the Savannah river channel from its current 42 feet to between 44 and 48 feet.
But Stern said a 50-foot deep channel has emerged as the minimum standard for the post-Panamax world in other East Coast ports - including New York, Baltimore, Norfolk and Miami, and that the Savannah River project would fall short even after deepening.
"It's a bad deal for the taxpayer to spend billions of dollars for a new Jasper Ocean Terminal on a last generation river," Stern said. "That means another deepening project, beyond the one currently being reviewed, would be required."
The SCPA action on Tuesday is the latest development in a debate that has SCPA at odds with not only the Georgia Ports Authority and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, but also South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and government officials in the Jasper area.
The Associated Press
said a Haley spokesman in a prepared statement yesterday noted the governor "is disappointed with the message that today's ports authority vote sends," but is "as committed as ever to work toward a viable Jasper Ocean Terminal."
Earlier this month, members of Haley's staff were called to testify before a South Carolina State Senate panel to refute charges that they exerted undue influence on the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental to permit the plan to deepen 38 miles of the Savannah River. By a 7-3 vote, the state senators, agreed no evidence existed that the governor’s office unfairly influenced the process, but Haley complained interrogation of her staff was unprecedented and undeserved.
"This action really comes as no surprise to anyone involved in the project," Andrew P. Fulghum, country administrator for Jasper County, told American Shipper
. "The SCPA has objected to the Jasper Port for almost two decades now.
"I suspect that the SCPA has finally realized 1) that it can't stop the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, and 2) that it can no longer stall permit filing for the Jasper Ocean Terminal. It's unfortunate that, once again, they send the message to the international shipping community that they are both parochial and provincial.
"The intergovernmental agreement between the two states calls for dispute resolution to be handled by the two governors and we look forward to watching them move the project forward," Fulghum added.
"We are disappointed by the decision made by the South Carolina State Port Authority today to suspend efforts to advance the Jasper port," said Alec Poitevint, chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority. "We remain committed to three successful, deepened ports in Savannah, Jasper and Charleston."
Deal said in a statement to the AP
that he and Georgia's U.S. senators have "publicly pledged to work closely with South Carolina to deepen both the Port of Charleston and the Port of Savannah — projects with a huge economic impact on both of our states and the Southeast in general. I'm disappointed that the South Carolina Port Authority decided today to withdraw financial support to move forward on the Jasper Port. We will not let gamesmanship disrupt our teamwork to bring high-paying jobs to Georgia and South Carolina."
In other developments, the SCPA board approved an update to its strategic plan, an $11.9 million contract to install infrastructure related to a new terminal operating system at the Wando Welch and North Charleston terminals, and a $1.2 million contract with Shaw GBB of Mobile for engineering consulting services related to the purchase of four new super-post-Panamax container cranes for the North Charleston Terminal.
The board approved a new organizational structure and related personnel actions. Four senior vice presidents have been named: Paul McClintock, chief commercial officer; Bill McLean, chief operating officer; Peter Hughes, chief financial officer; and Barbara Melvin, external affairs.
The SCPA said container volume in the Port of Charleston totaled 112,431 TEUs in November, up 1.5 percent from November 2010. Fiscal year-to-date (July-November) totaled 579,449 TEUs, down 0.82 percent from same five months last year.
"While we are tracking well with other U.S. ports, we are in a flat economic environment," Newsome stated.
The SCPA's non-container business is up nearly 54 percent in fiscal year 2011, totaling 556,800 tons compared to 362,011 tons the year prior. These results came despite a 26 percent decline in November. - Chris Dupin