A lot of water has traveled down the Savannah River since a two-state panel was set up to oversee development of a proposed deep-water port in Jasper County.
So why are officials only now commissioning a study on the river's capacity to handle ship traffic for a new port when the existing Savannah port reaches capacity?
One point has been clear for some time now: A Jasper port will not open before the Savannah port reaches capacity.
"We have delayed this meeting after meeting after meeting," said Bill Stern, chairman of the board of the South Carolina State Ports Authority. "I just think it makes good business sense that we have an answer to this."
Of course, it does. But decisions about the Jasper port seem to be predicated more on its potential impact on the Savannah and Charleston ports than whether a port on that site makes good business sense overall.
At a meeting last week (the first in nine months), the Joint Project Office, which consists of three appointees each from South Carolina and Georgia, agreed to the study. But in a telling development, they couldn't agree on whom to hire, The (Charleston) Post and Courier reports, so they agreed each state's port authority president would submit a name later. (The members were even at odds over a question-and-answer piece handed out to the media by a Georgia representative.) And the study would not begin until a decision is announced on the plan to deepen the Savannah River from 42 feet to 48 feet. Georgia officials hope to get that this summer. In the meantime, four lawsuits are challenging South Carolina permits for the project.
In addition to environmental objections, South Carolina port officials have said 48 feet isn't deep enough to handle the huge ships expected to come to East Coast ports after the Panama Canal is widened and deepened, a project expected to be done by 2014. Officials want to deepen the Charleston port to 50 feet from its current 45 feet.
Georgia Ports Authority's Curtis Foltz told the Journal of Commerce in a March 19 story that there will be enough business to "require all the capacity that Savannah's Garden City terminal, the container terminals in Charleston and a future Jasper (port) can provide."
But Jim Newsome, president of the South Carolina's Ports Authority, told the journal, "Our view of the world is that 50 feet is the standard, and this is consistent with the approvals given to other ports by the Army Corps (of Engineers)," Newsome said. "Why would we invest in a (Jasper) terminal that's not going to be ready until 2045 and a harbor that's only 48 feet?"
A good question, if South Carolina officials are right about that 50 feet. Taxpayers in Georgia, South Carolina and across the country deserve an answer.