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Gov. Nikki Haley: Go full throttle on Jasper port

Gov. Nikki Haley speaks about the Jasper Ocean Terminal project

FILE: Gov. Nikki Haley speaks about the status of the Jasper Ocean Terminal project during a news conference at the Jasper County Government Building on May 2, 2016, in Ridgeland.
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FILE: Gov. Nikki Haley speaks about the status of the Jasper Ocean Terminal project during a news conference at the Jasper County Government Building on May 2, 2016, in Ridgeland.

The Jasper Ocean Terminal is projected to be ready to operate by around 2025, but S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley says she wants the port up and running sooner.

Haley called for the estimated $4.5 billion project to be fast-tracked at a meeting Monday in Ridgeland, where she was by joined a cadre of consultants, elected officials, project directors and state port authority leaders.

“We need this done yesterday,” she said.

We need this done yesterday

Gov. Nikki Haley on the proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal

Shaving a few years off the project timeline will allow the Jasper Ocean Terminal to be ready when the nearby ports in Charleston and Savannah can no longer handle their cargo demands, Haley said.

Michael Rieger, project manager with the consulting firm Moffatt and Nichol, said a 2013 study of both ports determined that “by about 2025, the two ports will have reached their maximum capacity.”

But Haley said she “would be shocked” if the Savannah and Charleston ports don’t reach maximum capacity earlier.

While she acknowledged that it is “going to be an uphill, steep climb” to ensure the Jasper port is operational before 2025, Haley said the state “need(s) to be in front of this.”

Rieger said, “The governor is absolutely right — we need to press very hard. ... But at this point in time, (2025) is our best forecast.”

The port and its immediate facilities will sit on 1,500 acres of recovered dredge material in the southernmost portion of Jasper County, near the Tybee National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of the Savannah River.

At full build-out, the Jasper facility will have the capacity to handle three times the amount of cargo currently moving through Charleston’s port, Rieger said.

While the facility sits in South Carolina, it will be operated through a joint venture with Georgia.

An agreement solidifying that partnership was signed last year by officials from both states.

While South Carolina and Georgia leaders have not always seen eye-to-eye on the project, Haley said she has witnessed “a coming together of both sides to (determine) what we have to do get this moving forward.”

Currently, that means working with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the potential environmental impacts of the project.

“We are in the process right now of hiring a third-party contractor … to help prepare an environmental impact study,” Nat Ball with the Corps’ Charleston-based special projects team said Monday.

Ball said the goal is select that contractor before the end of May.

The environmental study, along with the permitting and regulatory process required by the federal government, will likely take at least four years, officials estimate.

In the meantime, Haley said state and local leaders must work to get their ducks in a row “so that we are waiting on everyone else and no one is waiting on us.”

Part of that preparation includes starting to put “money in savings and (budgeting) how much we are going to need for the Jasper port,” she said. “That way the Corps never has to question (whether the state) can really do this.”

Haley also vowed to maintain a high level of cooperation with Georgia officials.

“(Georgia) Gov. (Nathan) Deal and I stay in constant contact,” she said. “We are not going to let this fall.”

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