A plan to develop more than 5,000 acres in Hardeeville will secure Jasper County's economic future, county and city officials have said.
But some environmentalists are concerned RiverPort -- which borders the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge -- could irreversibly harm sensitive coastal areas in and around the protected sanctuary. The refuge shares a six-mile border with the proposed development.
"The refuge is a treasure," said Reed Armstrong, project manager for the Coastal Conservation League. "These projects have the potential to negatively impact and threaten the refuge."
Several environmental advocates spoke out Tuesday at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public hearing on the project. The corps is evaluating a proposal that would allow the development group Stratford Land, the city and the county to build on the tract near Interstate 95.
Developers want to construct one of the largest logistics and industrial sites in the Southeast, they have said.
Plans call for a 840-acre commercial village, a 2,390-acre mixed-use area and a 1,755-acre industrial park. Sketches also show a new interchange at exit 3 on Interstate 95.
Stratford Land expects to attract more than $875 million in investments. An economic benefit study revealed the industrial park could create as many as 20,000 new jobs and $50 million in tax revenue, said Stratford Land executive Ed Blakely.
Some advocates, however, want the corps to consider several environmental factors before issuing any permit.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are worried the area is home to migratory birds and threatened animals, such as the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and the flatwoods salamander .
Wildlife refuge representatives also fear impervious surfaces -- such as concrete and rooftops -- would send toxic water toward the refuge and the Savannah River.
Some refuge officials are also worried about vehicle traffic.
Construction will increase traffic flow on S.C. 170, a narrow, shoulderless road traveled by many of the sanctuary's more than 200,000 visitors a year, said refuge project leader Jane Griess.
Developers say RiverPort Parkway will help alleviate that traffic. The span will connect to Interstate 95 at exit 3 and should be complete within 6 to 8 months.
They also say they're conscious of the possible harm construction could do to wetlands.
Blakely said he has sold 170 acres to the refuge, an area that should act as a buffer.
He also will meet with environmentalists to plan further mitigation, he said. He added he will follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines to minimize harm.
The corps of engineers will study the project, which has the "potential to significantly affect the quality of the human environment," according to project manager Shawn Boone.
The group will present an environmental study before it considers issuing permits. That study could take two years, Boone said.
Jasper County planning director LeNolon Edge said the project's economic benefits outweigh its environmental costs.
"There are trade offs, and this is desperately needed in this area," Edge said. "For the project to get going, it will be a win for the people of Jasper County."
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.
- Hardeeville breaks ground on RiverPort project, March 27, 2014
- RiverPort developers say 5,000-acre project won't harm environment, June 11, 2010