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Monday, August 12, 2013 - 1:00am

Jasper Port Backers Complain Of Delays

It's been five years since Georgia and South Carolina agreed to build a new seaport on their shared Savannah River.

Since then, there's been a lot of drama between the two states.

And the Jasper Ocean Terminal -- in Jasper County, South Carolina -- is still at least 13 years away.

Local officials are fed up with waiting.

They might try to take over the project.

Right now, the Jasper Ocean Terminal is a dusty, swampy marsh just downstream from Savannah.

When it's built, it'll give Georgia and South Carolina the ability to handle up to seven million more cargo containers each year.

And that means big business for the region's shipping-related economy.

But Jasper County administrator Andrew Fulgham says first the states have to smooth their rocky relationship.

"The problem is they began as bitter enemies," Fulgham says. "The economy can't wait for them to come together to get this done. It was supposed to take two years. It's at a point now where it's taken over five years."

South Carolina and Georgia compete for business at their ports in Charleston and Savannah.

But for the Jasper project they have to work together.

So far, county officials say the states are wasting time with studies.

But Jim Newsome of the South Carolina Ports Authority says studies are key to answering questions, like how Georgia's deepening of Savannah's harbor will affect the jointly-run project.

"We're working with purpose to go through the issues involved in building a major container terminal in the greenfield site," Newsome says. "It's a big endeavor and I believe that the terminal can be built and ready when it's needed."

A study shows the port won't be needed until 2025 when Charleston and Savannah will run out of capacity to handle ships.

Newsome says construction will progress quickly when more studies are done.

"We believe that the current Corps of Engineers process for building such terminals is much shorter than people maybe realize," Newsome says.

But Jasper County officials are demanding control of the seaport project unless the states seek construction permits at their next joint meeting in September.

Curtis Foltz of the Georgia Ports Authority says he hopes the impasse will be resolved within six months.

"We couldn't get consensus at the board level to proceed," Foltz says "I think there's been a lot of posturing there that didn't need to be."

But the bi-state effort might not have that much time.

South Carolina law says the project should be turned over to Jasper County if there are needless delays.

And county officials have made it clear they believe that law is on their side.

But South Carolina Ports officials disagree with that interpretation.

That sets up the possibility of the complaints being heard in a South Carolina court.