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Several Lowcountry officials and a candidate for governor said Tuesday the planned Jasper Ocean Terminal needs to be built sooner rather than later.
The South Carolina Ports Authority recently revealed that the timeline for opening the proposed port has been lengthened from the expected year of 2025 to 2035-2037 because of increased capacity at the Port of Charleston.
That news has not gone over well with local officials, who discussed the issue at a news conference in Hardeeville with Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton.
“You are fortunate to have great leadership fighting on your behalf (for the port),” said Templeton, one of four candidates challenging Gov. Henry McMaster in the June 12 primary. “This is a bipartisan effort, this is a state effort and it is even good for the nation.”
Flanked by leaders from Jasper County, Beaufort County, Hardeeville and Bluffton, Templeton asked Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka to speak about the port’s importance.
“We’re a region that supports the needs of our neighbors,” Sulka said. “We want to see the port for our neighbors not only in Jasper County, but also in Allendale, Colleton and Hampton counties. We grow together as a region and that’s just five counties.”
Sulka said the S.C. Senate has a responsibility to the counties to secure permits to build the port, which has been delayed often.
“They are going to run against a big group that stands behind me that represents thousands of more people that are not going to stand still this time,” she said. “We need this port before 2035 and we stand strong.”
Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams said officials are working together to help thousands of residents who would benefit from the port.
“The residents of the city of Hardeeville as well as all of Jasper County’s residents have to recognize what’s happened here today,” he said.
“We are all represented here, from Jasper County to Beaufort County, to Hardeeville, to Ridgeland and also the SouthernCarolina Alliance, who is putting this as one of their main priorities to push forward with this port. You’re finding a whole region coming together as one.”
Jasper County Council chairman Tom Johnson said he has been working on the port project since 1993. He said the thinking has been that if Charleston has a port, Jasper also should have one.
“Before we create competition for Charleston, we have to make sure that Charleston has all they want. That’s not in the law, that’s not in our American capitalist system, that’s just wrong,” Johnson said. “They have long since forgotten that they are the South Carolina Ports Authority. The idea of moving the date back, that’s not good enough and we are here to see that’s not the final answer.”
Beaufort County Council chairman Paul Sommerville said Jasper’s neighbors support the project.
“We know there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes effort to impede the development of the Jasper port and we want to see that stopped,” Sommerville said. “We want to see it proceed and we want to see it proceed now.”
Templeton, a former S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control director and secretary of labor, said Lowcountry residents can make a difference in moving the port forward.
“Never underestimate the power of one voice,” she said. “Everyone in Jasper County and the region is powerful to call their legislators because it matters. When even 10 people call a legislator’s office, that’s 10 more than they expected and all of a sudden it’s an emergency in their office. While the local legislators in Jasper and the region know the importance, it just elevates it to an emergency.”