Ports authority suspends Jasper funding

By Matt Tomsic
mtomsic@scbiznews.com
Published Dec. 20, 2011

The S.C. Ports Authority board suspended its funding for the Jasper Ocean Terminal during its monthly meeting Tuesday.

The board voted 7-2 for suspension after concluding the Jasper Ocean Terminal could not be built under current and proposed conditions, which take into account the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

The board said an alternative to deepening the Savannah River to the Jasper terminal should be studied along with the current deepening project, which extends to the Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City Terminal.

The current deepening project proposal would not allow the terminals to handle larger vessels that are expected to call on the East Coast after the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2014.

“The proposed Savannah River deepening was probably fine when first conceived in 1999, but today’s global shipping environment requires more,” said Bill Stern, chairman of the ports authority board. “It’s a bad deal for the taxpayer to spend billions of dollars for a new Jasper Ocean Terminal on a last generation river. That means another deepening project, beyond the one currently being reviewed, would be required.”

Stern said a 50-foot channel is the minimum standard for post-Panamax ships. The Savannah River expansion project is expected to deepen the harbor to 48 feet.

Stern and the ports authority board called for Georgia to join South Carolina and request the Army Corps of Engineers to study dredging to the Jasper terminal as an alternative to the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The board said deepening the channel to Jasper would cost less and impact the environment less.

The ports authority also will try to amend the intergovernmental agreement between South Carolina and Georgia. The changes include releasing the 50-year federal easement on the Jasper site, sharing the costs of infrastructure to the site and ensuring dual-rail access to the site, among other changes.

Port volumes

Also during its meeting, the board heard the volume totals in November and since the fiscal year began.

In November, the port handled roughly 112,000 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, the standard measurement of cargo. That figure is up 1.5% from November 2010, while year-to-date TEUs were down by 0.8% compared to the same five months last year.

Despite the slight decline in container cargo, the ports non-container business increased by nearly 54% — to 557,000 tons — in fiscal year 2011. Break-bulk and roll-on, roll-off cargo through the Port of Charleston also increased by 30% — to 349,000 tons — compared to the same five months last year.

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