Monday, July 20, 2009

Port progress will soon involve all

Bluffton Today

Last week, I shared that I was a member of the Savannah River Maritime Commission, and as such, would have certain responsibilities relative to the Jasper Port. There were a number of you, judging by your calls, who were confused as to whether the commission was a South Carolina entity or something we cooked up with Georgia.

Here is the deal:
The Savannah River Maritime Commission was established by a joint resolution of the South Carolina General Assembly in April 2007. It was charged with the responsibility of representing the interests of South Carolina in matters relating to the Savannah River, our border with Georgia.

These include, but are not limited to, navigability, dredging, wastewater, and sludge disposal.

Membership is composed of three members from the senate, three members from the house, the governor, the chairs of DHEC, DNR, and the SC Ports Authority, the last three being ex officio. In addition, the Attorney General has a local representative from Jasper County. Currently, the chairman is the capable Dean Moss, head of the Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority.

Originally, we were to meet twice a year, but the reality is that we may meet as often as quarterly, or even every other month. There are simply a raft of outstanding issues.

Our last meeting was at the new Jasper County Government Building and ably hosted by Dr. George Hood, chairman of Jasper County Council. It is plain that Jasper County and Beaufort County are both primary stakeholder in this process. We will share the benefits of the port, just as we will endure any potential negatives flowing from this project. We also share a commitment to anticipate and eliminate those potential negatives.

At the last meeting, we received a briefing on the permitting and feasibility studies required of the Jasper Ocean Terminal. Additionally, we took up the matter of the role our commission should have in reviewing the draft of the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project.

Obviously, this review is one of the most critical features of our mandate. There are a number of profoundly serious issues under consideration relative to this deepening project. Among these issues are potential damage to the Upper Florida Aquifer, saltwater intrusion into upstream natural features, as well as the possibility that our drinking water access points along the Savannah River might be compromised.

Making this matter somewhat delicate is the fact that if the deepening project is rejected or significantly modified, the commercial prospects for the Jasper Ocean Terminal are magnified immensely. In my view, the science needs to guide this process, not short-term political or economic advantage.

These issues are all of such importance that it would be unthinkable for us to go forward without hearing from you on this. At some point, the draft of the EIS will be made available to the public, we will then conduct a hearing, and there will be at least 45-60 days of comment period.

I promise that this will not be one of those obscure, pro forma events that seem to get overlooked be everyone except those with an economic interest. You will hear from me (and ideally all media) exactly when, where, why, and what it all means. Your questions and your wisdom will be a part of the outcome of this review. We cannot afford to get this one wrong.

Next week, there is good news for Bluffton and new business for Old Town.