The State Infrastructure Bank has agreed that the Jasper County Port Project is eligible for funding. That’s not the same as agreeing to fund the project, but lowcountry officials are optimistic that the $63 million will be allotted to aid the project, in the construction of a new exit on Interstate 95 and industrial warehouses near the new port. But the issue isn’t without a certain amount of tension. While the project will clearly benefit South Carolina, it’s just a stone’s throw from Georgia. Charleston officials are very aware of the competition between the existing Charleston port and the Savannah Port in Georgia. The Port of Savannah gained business from the Maersk shipping Company while the Charleston port lost part of the Danish company’s business, which had been its largest client.
State Representative Chip Limehouse of Charleston serves on the Infrastructure Bank Board. During Thursday’s meeting he expressed concern that Georgia might benefit from South Carolina’s investment.
Hardeeville City Manager Kevin Griffin responds, saying that the tide is turning and that South Carolina will reap the benefits. “We’re not working with Georgia on this project. We’re working to get industrial projects into Jasper County and the Low-Country of South Carolina. So when the opportunities occur, we’ll have everything ready. So far all the development has been on the Georgia side.”
Between 2000 and 2005 the Port of Savannah was the fastest-growing seaport in the US. Operated by the Georgia Ports Authority, the Port of Savannah competes not only with the Port of Charleston but also with the Port of Jacksonville. Georgia also has the Port of Brunswick as well as two interior ports linked to the Gulf of Mexico–Port Bainbridge and Port Columbus.
Griffin says the Palmetto State will clearly benefit from the project. “Regardless of whether the traffic comes from the Jasper Terminal or the Savannah Terminal, the new warehouses used will be in Jasper County and that will benefit South Carolina.”
Senator Clementa Pinckney addressed the Infrastructure Bank on behalf of Jasper County, saying that the project will bring tens of thousands of jobs to the area. He says the Jasper port project is competing with Georgia, as Charleston is. “I can totally see his perspective(referring to Limehouse). We want Charleston to be the most successful port in the region. And it’s very successful. What we want to do is develop warehousing space. If it’s not developed in South Carolina, it will be developed in Georgia.”
Senator Pinckney says, on the Georgia side, warehousing for the existing Port of Savannah is 40 miles away, and that’s an opportunity for South Carolina. “So the pent-up demand is certainly there. We want to create warehousing that is six miles away from the Georgia terminal. It makes economic sense to them to store their goods closer, rather than to go 40 miles out. We want to create economic development by capitalizing on the Georgia Ports Authority.”