S.C. Ports Authority Mulling Compromise for New Port Facility

COLUMBIA, S.C.-- South Carolina's ports authority is mulling a compromise that could clear the way for faster development of a new port operation on the Savannah River in Jasper County.

The agency, which runs the state's port facilities, has been fighting Jasper County in the state Supreme Court, claiming that the county does not have the authority to condemn Georgia-owned property for a privately owned port.

Last week, Jasper County adopted a compromise that relies on the state to condemn the land. The Ports Authority would own the land and lease it to Jasper County. Private port builder SSA Marine would build and manage the facility and the Ports Authority would get $2 for each container handled, Jasper County Council Chairman George Hood said.

Ports Authority Chairman Harry Butler said his board talked about the compromise in a closed-door session Tuesday before telling its lawyers to look at it more closely and make recommendations.

Butler would not discuss details of the compromise. But he said it would complicate a process launched earlier this year that is aimed at bringing private dollars into port development.

The Ports Authority will take proposed concepts for privately managed and funded port projects in Charleston at the old Navy base and in Jasper County from as many as 21 of the world's largest shipping and port concerns, including SSA.

The proposals are due Aug. 1 and will be evaluated by the end of the year. That process will bring money "to the table that would allow the port to move forward more rapidly," Butler said.

Sometime this summer, the state Supreme Court should hear the condemnation case and could have a decision within a few months.

The authority's lack of urgency in handling the compromise is irksome for Gladys Jones, Jasper County Council's vice chairman. She says the Ports Authority remains too concerned about holding onto power and control of the project while SSA is ready to spend a lot of money on a project that will create jobs in one of the state's poorest counties.

There's a "company with a check for $450 million in the hand begging to spend it in South Carolina and ... they can't get that check cashed in South Carolina because of politics," Jones said.

"If they would work with us," Hood said, "we are ready to work with them and to move as fast as possible. We are not against the Ports Authority. We want to work with them."

Butler said the State Ports Authority is committed to building a Jasper port.