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Wednesday, July 27, 2011 - 12:47pm

Study Moves Ga-SC Port Forward

Officials working to build a jointly-run Georgia and South Carolina port on the Savannah River will spend the next year looking at what to do with the river's sediment.

The dredged clay from the bottom of the Savannah River is expected to save the states millions of dollars.

When the river is deepened to make way for larger ships, the US Army Corps of Engineers is expected to put the dredged material on the river's South Carolina bank.

That's where officials like Jasper County administrator Andrew Fulgham want a new port to rise.

"The site itself is low and needs the fill in order to be developed," Fulgham says. "The dredged spoil is a great answer to that problem in that the suitable can be put there to raise the site elevation."

Project officials have agreed to fund a $400,000 dollar study to determine where exactly to put the river-bottom clay at the Jasper County site.

Now the officials -- known as the JPO for Joint Project Office -- have to negotiate with the Corp of Engineers for the federal agency to give up its right to use the site for future dredgings.

"Negotiating with the Corps of Engineers for the release of the easement is the most important aspect of the project," Fulgham says. "In my opinion, it's not a realistic project until that happens. I'm glad to see the JPO moving forward in that direction."

Jasper County officials have been working for nearly two decades to move the project forward -- with or without statewide political support.

The idea gained significant traction, however, when the two state's former governors -- Perdue and Sanford -- agreed to form the bi-state authority, citing the potential benefits of future development for both states.

JPO officials say, an agreement with the US Army Corps of Engineers over dredged material would save the proposed project $300 million.

That's because the proposed site is low and the US Army Corps of Engineers is expected to dredge the river during the proposed Savannah Harbor Expansion Project -- or SHEP.

"We need the fill to provide the foundation for the port," says Jim Balloun, a member of the JPO board. "We can either truck it in from someplace else at a cost of $10 a yard. Or we can get it for free from the SHEP project. The difference is about $300 million, maybe more."

Officials would like to see the port open by the year 2025, when capacity at the existing Savannah port complex is expected to be reached.