Jasper County to seek state help to fund railway, road and utility upgrades for existing needs and new port project

With continuing progress on the joint venture Jasper Ocean Terminal port project, Jasper County leaders are looking ahead at infrastructure to support both the new Jasper port and the expanding Savannah port.

The Georgia Ports Authority recently replied to the proposed agreement approved by the SC State Ports Authority in 2021. In that agreement Jasper County would be substituted for the State Ports Authority in a joint venture with the Georgia Ports Authority to develop the Jasper Ocean Terminal property.

The Jasper port will be an international shipping facility that is 13 miles closer to the Atlantic than the Savannah port. Under the proposal, Jasper County and the Georgia Ports Authority each would own 50 percent of the project.

During the time the proposed assignment agreement has been under consideration by the Georgia Ports Authority, Jasper County officials have been working with them to identify infrastructure projects needed not only to support the new ocean terminal, but to also enhance the economic development opportunities in South Carolina on the Highway 17 corridor. 

Multiple port support projects, such as warehousing and distribution center projects, have been constructed or are in the design/construction stage in the southern part of Jasper County. The ongoing Highway 17 widening project addresses a portion of these needs, but much more is needed to capitalize on the opportunities provided by the Georgia Ports Authority’s current and planned capacity, Jasper County Council Chair Barbara Clark said.

“Since February 2021 we have been working behind the scenes with the Georgia Ports Authority and we are seeing progress,” Clark said. “Leaders in both states talk about needing the Jasper Ocean Terminal starting around 2030, so we already are running tight to get the necessary roads and railways engineered and built.”

Estimates call for about $500 million of infrastructure needs, including $55 million for railway expansion, $100 million in roadway improvements and $99.5 million in utility work – all in South Carolina. The project also calls for about $235 million in railway improvements in Chatham County, Ga., needed for the Jasper Ocean Terminal.

Those estimated costs are construction only and don’t include engineering or permitting fees. All work would be specified in a joint venture agreement still being reviewed by Jasper County officials and the Georgia Port Authority.

Clark provided an update on the port during today’s State of the County luncheon sponsored by the Jasper County Chamber of Commerce.

In the reply to the SCSPA, the Georgia Ports Authority stated that a new joint venture agreement would be needed substituting Jasper County for the SCSPA, and that Jasper County and interested South Carolina local and state entities would need to address the financial capability to be a 50/50 partner and the scheduling and permitting of other port projects. 

The proposed new infrastructure will complement the US Highway 17 Corridor improvements already underway as part of Jasper County’s growing commerce hub.

Once built, the 1,500-acre Jasper Ocean Terminal, planned for the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, is expected to handle seven million cargo containers a year.

“Like a lot of things, the port project seems to be moving slow, but we’ve been at this a long time and we are at the point where we need our legislature to talk about funding these infrastructure improvements to help this entire region," said Andrew Fulghum, Jasper County administrator.

Updates on the port project come as other infrastructure work, a decade in the making, start to appear: A $42 million widening of part of US Highway 17 leading into Georgia; a multi-million-dollar state project for a new Exit 3 on I-95; and the ongoing, $22 million expansion of the Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport to enable it to accommodate business jets.

“With the permitting, the environmental reviews and the engineering involved in the railway, utility and road infrastructure, it is essential that we get the state to fund the work now,” Fulghum said. “The year 2030 seems a long ways away, but it’s sneaking up faster than we think.”