Imagine my shock and amazement a couple of weeks ago as I opened my Savannah Morning News to find that the bulk of the Beaufort/Jasper Legislative Delegation were being termed “traitors” to the cause of economic development and opportunity. In addition, the political sensibilities of the overwhelming majority of our constituents were being cast as “pretty pathetic.”
The language was so over-the-top and wrongheaded, I assumed Mary had picked up a checkout tabloid at the grocery.
As the phone began to ring, most folks were as aghast as we were at this nonsense. Especially considering my work in the private sector, and for the last decade in the public sector, has been largely about job creation and economic development. Ten years ago, the three primary supporters of the idea of a Jasper Port were the late Henry Moss, longtime Jasper County Manager, then Jasper County Rep. Thayer Rivers, and this now traitorous representative from Bluffton.
Of what grave, treasonous offense might our delegation be guilty?
We voted with the overwhelming majority of the SC House on a measure to assure that action items passed by bi-state boards and commissions include a majority of both delegations. Pretty radical stuff. Your editorial claims that such a move places discretion in these matters with the Savannah River Maritime Board, which is trying to kill the deepening project. Very interesting in that the Maritime Board recently endorsed deepening of the Savannah River channel to 45 feet.
The real issue is this: We agree that the Savannah River needs to be dredged. The best science seems to indicate 45 ft. is a safe depth and we have agreed to that level of channel work. However, if the manner and degree of channel work is environmentally unsound or done in a way that makes the Jasper site untenable, we will oppose that strenuously. The current effort by the Savannah Port Authority and its apologists to conflate any environmental objections with some scheme to derail any deepening is patently false and rhetorically flimsy.
However, it does remind me of advice I received from a state representative from Georgia early in this Jasper Port process. He told me that the SPA will never agree to allow a perceived competitor on its river, regardless of the excellent economic rationale. They will Delay, Divide, and Denounce. They will buy your friends and create political opportunities for your opponents. They learned this from the consortium of paper and chemical manufacturers along the Savannah River during the 1970s. When their excessive groundwater extraction started to cause saltwater intrusion into the aquifer along the coast of South Carolina, they rolled out the DDD strategy to good effect. By the time the feds stepped in, the issue was largely moot.
During the run-up to all this “traitor” business, no one from your office, to my knowledge, called any member of our delegation to hear our version of events. Perhaps you didn’t need to know. What you do need to know is this:
1: No member of the Beaufort/Jasper Delegation will support further damage to our environmental heritage. No amount of disingenuous promise of future benefit or the threat of further cartoonish denunciation will move us to accept a version of risk/benefit analysis that places all the benefit on the Georgia side and all the risk with South Carolina.
2: We want to build a port in Jasper County in partnership with the Savannah Port. However, if you think the Delay, Divide and Denounce strategy will again win the day, I urge you to reconsider. This is a different world. We will build this port. I have invested ten years in this project, and we are in it for the long march. The economics support our position and just as importantly, our prosperity will not come at the expense of yours.
3: You might want to take a lesson from your colleagues at Bluffton Today. They are professionals. They play fair and their opinions are credible, largely because they pay attention and, more often than not, reflect an informed community consensus.
I regret the necessity of responding in kind to your harsh editorial. I imagine you feel as though you are just playing hardball for the home team. In truth, each time you flush away a bit of your credibility in unwarranted attack or unsound reasoning, you reduce your value to that patron.