Hundreds packed into Hardeeville Elementary School on Tuesday evening for their first opportunity to chime in on the Jasper Ocean Terminal project, and dozens spoke about the importance of ensuring the proposed port is built and operated in a way that benefits the economy, protects the environment, and improves transportation infrastructure.
The $4.5 billion port is planned for a 1,500-acre site in Jasper County, near the Tybee National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of the Savannah River.
Tuesday’s open house was hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to get public input to for an Environmental Impact Statement, a study that must be completed prior to the start of construction on the port.
Nat Ball with the Corps’ Charleston-based special projects team said Tuesday that the proposed port is “a massive project and an important project.”
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Specifically, the study will look at issues such as air, noise and light pollution; fish and wildlife; transportation infrastructure; and impacts on the floodplain, he said.
Regarding infrastructure, the port will require miles of new rail lines and roadways to connect the proposed port to existing transportation networks.
Ball said initial plans for the port call for a new 5-mile road between the facility and U.S. 17 in Jasper County.
Local resident Stan Lancaster, who often travels between the Lowcountry and Savannah, urged the Corps and S.C. Department of Transportation officials to improve the roads.
“Not only do we need the port, we need the roads,” he said. “Right now, it’s terrible.”
Many others offered similar comments.
The study also will look into the impact of the port on wetland areas, including several threatened or endangered animal species that make a home in those wetlands, Ball said.
Jacob Oblander with the Savannah Riverkeeper organization said, “The marshland is already decreasing in a lot of these areas due to development.”
He urged the Corps to pay particular attention to studying contaminants that could enter local waterways as a result of port construction and operation.
Lt. Col. Matthew Luzzatto, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Charleston district, said, “We are neither for or against the proposed project.”
The Corps’ mission with the study is simply to offer a “fair and balanced” analysis of the potential impacts of the port, he said.
“We need (the public’s) help” to identify concerns, Luzzatto said.
The environmental study, along with the permitting and regulatory process required by the federal government, will cost roughly $15 million, Jasper Ocean Terminal board officials estimate.
While the study focuses on environmental impacts, local leaders say the port could be an important economic driver in the future.
Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert said Tuesday the project could “be a homerun” for economic development in the region.
The project “will be one of many I expect to work on in partnership with our colleagues in Jasper County,” he said.
Jasper County Councilman Martin Sauls said, “We are very excited to see this” study get underway.
Once completed, the port could be “not only the most important project to our counties, but maybe the whole East Coast.”
Terminal board chairman David Posek stressed the importance of the project, saying the port will “greatly enhance job growth and revenue” in the region.
He said the project has the potential to inject billions of dollars into the region’s economy.
The board expects the port to be operational by around 2025.
If you could not attend Tuesday’s open house, written public comments will be accepted for the next 30 days. To submit a comment, visit www.jasperoceanterminaleis.com/publiccomment.aspx.
Additional public meetings will be scheduled in the coming months, Luzzatto said.
Once a draft of the study is complete, it will be presented to the public for more comment before any construction permits are issued.