U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham threw his support behind a proposal to jump-start development of a new port on the Savannah River in Jasper County.
Graham, R-S.C., speaking at the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's 15th annual State of the Region Breakfast on Tuesday, said the shipping market would support such a project and called for a study examining its development.
"God dealt us a good hand. ... A Jasper County port allows us to offer services to the marketplace that complements Charleston and Savannah," he said during the event at The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa.
The Georgia Department of Transportation conveyed the 1,517-acre port site two years ago to a new joint venture owned equally by South Carolina and Georgia. The plan was for the new port to handle shipping containers when Savannah and Charleston exceeded their capacities.
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Plans for the Jasper port, however, have been put on the back burner because the recession slowed trade at the Charleston and Savannah ports.
Graham's comments followed those of state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who has said a Jasper County port could be built sooner by focusing on rapid-turnaround shipping business not targeted by Charleston or Savannah, such as short-sea shipping; small independent container carriers; and refrigerated or frozen goods.
Graham also reiterated his commitment to bringing five new Joint Strike Fighter squadrons to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, a pledge he also made Monday in two other Beaufort County appearances.
He said he plans to lobby U.S. Department of Defense and Marine Corps officials between now and December, when a final decision on dividing the 13 fighter squadrons is expected.
"It's good for the taxpayer, good for the Marine Corps and good for Beaufort County," Graham said.
The Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35, will replace the F-18 Hornets now based at the air station.
Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton said the two pilot-training and three active-duty squadrons proposed for MCAS Beaufort would bring hundreds of "new high-paying civilian jobs" and $350 million in capital investment for base renovations.
"This will boost our economy and reduce the risk of base closures in the future," Newton said.
Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the only member of Congress to have served active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan -- as a colonel and military lawyer in the Air Force Reserve -- also addressed worries of a nuclear-armed Iran.
"We need to engage fully and completely in stopping Iran from developing nuclear technology," he said. "That's best done through sanctions, to cripple the regime and change course."
Military action, he said, should be a last resort for the United States.