SAVANNAH — The Savannah River has enough room for cargo ships to accommodate Georgia and South Carolina adding a new port terminal downstream from the busy Port of Savannah, according to a study presented to officials from both states Monday.
For years, the neighboring states have worked slowly toward building a jointly owned, $3 billion shipping terminal on 1,500 acres in Jasper County, South Carolina, just across the river from Savannah. The South Carolina delegation had been reluctant to move forward without determining if a second port could function without causing traffic jams on the water.
Engineering consultants told the joint port board, meeting Monday for the first time since May, that they developed models to estimate ship traffic in the river channel in the year 2049. They looked at traffic projections for the Port of Savannah alone, then with the addition of the Jasper County terminal. Their report concluded delays affecting ships likely would be slightly more frequent, and just a few minutes longer, with a second port on the river.
"The river is not going to shut down with the addition of the Jasper terminal," said Michael Rieger, project manager for the consulting firm Moffatt & Nichol. "We can still get ships in and out, and the delays are just a little bit longer than what occurs today."
The findings appeared to satisfy South Carolina members of the joint port board, who had previously expressed doubts that a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to expand the Port of Savannah's shipping channel and make room for larger cargo ships was insufficient to handle a second port terminal.
"We were looking at a go or no-go" situation, said David Posek, a board member of the South Carolina Ports Authority and chairman of the joint port board. "What the study is telling us is there are modifications that are going to be needed, in an efficient way, but the river can accommodate both."
The timing of the Jasper County project remains uncertain. Consultants say they hope to have a draft design ready by September to submit to federal regulators. Georgia and South Carolina officials have said they expect the new port terminal could be permitted, built and operational by about 2030.
Engineers are already working to fix some faults with the terminal's preliminary design. Consultant Jason Ball told the board Monday that the Jasper terminal's wharf will need to pushed an additional 500 feet from the river channel so that waves from passing vessels don't rock ships tied to the dock. He said any rocking motion could slow down crane operators trying to load and unload cargo.
Proponents of the Jasper County terminal say both states will need it once their ports in Savannah and Charleston, South Carolina, run out of capacity.
"In my opinion, Jasper has to be built for the benefit of South Carolina and Georgia under any scenario," said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. "And it can't get moving fast enough."