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A bi-state panel, seeking to end an impasse that threatens plans for a port in Jasper County, will meet Monday in Charleston.
The Jasper Ocean Terminal Joint Project Office's directors are expected to discuss whether Georgia will dump clay from a dredging project to deepen the Savannah River at the Jasper County site some hope will become a port. Georgia and South Carolina also are at odds over what kind of spoil can be deposited there.
The right kind of spoil could be used to raise the Jasper site's elevation to a height needed for port construction. Bluffton resident Bill Bethea, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley's appointee to the two-state board, said a vote to dump "good dirt" from the Savannah River "could be a game-changer" for a Jasper port.
Bethea said using the clay would save a $300-million expense to truck in material from elsewhere and is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" that could "provide an enormous positive impact to the financial viability of the Jasper port."
S.C. state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, along with environmental groups and other legislators, have questioned the presence of toxic metals in the dredged mud they say would harm the environment.
"It has to be good spoil that can be built upon and does not have cadmium," Davis said, referring to a naturally occurring heavy metal.
Davis said he's encouraged by Bethea's comments of the port moving forward and looks forward to what is announced as a result of Monday's meeting.
The six-member board consists of three members from each state, appointed either by the governor or the state port authority. Additionally, a member from each governor's staff serves as a non-voting member.Georgia and South Carolina have been working on a joint port downriver from the Port of Savannah.Together, the states own about 1,500 acres in South Carolina and have spent several million dollars on the Jasper port plan.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers holds easements on the site to dump spoil dredged from the Savannah River, which makes development of the Jasper site impossible, Davis said.
The Corps has said if the two states work together to develop and manage a joint port, which includes an alternate site for dredge disposal, it will release the easement.
The Joint Project Office is expected to discuss gradually removing those easements from parts of the property so that port construction might start sooner.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead