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The big news in the past month has been the delay in the “need” for the Jasper Ocean Terminal (JOT). Thanks to the herculean efforts of the Jasper legislative delegation, led by Sens. Tom Davis and Margie Bright-Matthews and supported by Reps. Bill Bowers, Weston Newton and Bill Herbkersman, $2 million was returned to the budget to keep the Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) on schedule.
This means there are no delays to the original timetable, at least for now. But there are many steps after the EIS and permitting processes, including roads, rail lines and port construction, before the first ship docks and that’s when the money trouble will start.
Let me outline a brief summary of what we’ve been told so we can all understand this a little better. According to the analysis done by the engineering firm of Moffatt and Nichol in 2015 and updated in 2016, the current capacity of both ports, Savannah (6.5 million TEU’s) and Charleston (2.8 million TEU’s), is a total of 9.3 million TEU’s. (NOTE: a TEU is the equivalent of a 20-foot container). These experts tell us that ports are inefficient when 80 percent of capacity is reached; meaning ships will wait at sea for a dock to open.
Therefore, the ports will be inefficient when 7.44 million containers are received. In 2017, the total receipt of both ports was 6.23 million TEU’s, a robust 10 percent increase over 2016.
In its recent report the South Carolina Port Authority (SCPA) projected a conservative annual growth of 4 percent. If you do the math using this cautious growth projection, the year 2022 will take in 7.58 million containers (TEU’s), or 81.5 percent of current capacity.
So, what has changed? The SCPA now tells us that miraculous new efficiencies have been discovered. Savannah will now be able to increase its capacity to 8 million TEU’s and the new Hugh Leatherman Port in North Charleston will be able to handle 2.4 million; up from the original estimate of 1.4 million. Equally surprising to everyone, the Georgia Port Authority now wants to develop Hutchinson Island as a port at a cost of $2 billion and raise capacity another 1.5 to 2 million TEU’s.
Hence, with this added capacity the Jasper Ocean Terminal is not needed until 2035.
Here are some questions to ponder. 1. This new report came from SCPA. What do the experts, the engineers of Moffatt & Nichol, have to say about these new projections? 2. Why is this new way of stacking containers just being discovered? 3. Is Georgia’s new found 1.5 million capacities due to the new rail line just announced? If so, why wasn’t this factored in when this new GA-SC Port Authority was formed? 4. Why is Georgia now planning to spend $2 billion to develop Hutchinson Island, just a few miles from the JOT? Isn’t this redundant if everyone is committed to the JOT?
Let’s take another look at the math, using different assumptions. First, until we get confirmation from the engineers let’s assume the Hugh Leatherman Port can increase from the original 1.4 million to 1.9 million (USPA wants us to believe it can be 2.4. Forgive me my skepticism). Let’s also assume Georgia can get up to 8 million TEU’s. That’s a total 12.7 containers. Using the 80 percent threshold, the JOT is needed when volume of 10.1 million TEU’s is reached. Let’s continue to use 4 percent growth.
At that rate, the combined ports will reach 10.37 million by 2030. According to the last update by the experts, the JOT will be ready for the first vessel by 2029 if we remain on schedule. Based on these assumptions, there is no need to delay.
There is another reason why the Jasper Port needs to proceed on schedule. The new super vessels, including the 22,000 TEU ships now being built, need deep water and cannot go under the bridges. Only Jasper will be able to accommodate these massive ships that are the future; a future that is here now.
So why should there be any talk of delaying? South Carolina needs to start planning for the billions of dollars needed to construct the infrastructure after the permitting is complete in 2022.
Former Gov. Nikki Haley was a vocal supporter and visited Jasper County in 2016 to champion this project. Gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton from Charleston came to Hardeeville on March 26 and announced her unwavering support for the Jasper Terminal.
We need Gov. McMaster to declare his commitment and to promote a financial plan to build the necessary roads, rail links and other infrastructure. Planning for that infrastructure needs to start now.
Both Georgia and South Carolina will benefit from the Jasper Ocean Terminal. This is not just about the economic impact of Jasper County.
It will impact the entire region from Georgia to Charleston; it will bring new tax revenue and jobs to the states of South Carolina and Georgia; and it will provide a vital link for the nation’s economy.
These three ports will not compete with each other; they will complement each other and this entire region will become the gateway to the nation’s economy.
We all need to send this message to Columbia! Without delay.
Harry Williams is the mayor of the city of Hardeeville.