So far it’s only a shouting match, and only ink has been spilled, but 10,471 acres in Jasper County, S.C., have become a verbal battleground between factions in Georgia and neighboring South Carolina.
Situated on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, the disputed property is owned by the Georgia Dept. of Transportation. It is used to provide a containment area to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for dredged material produced in maintenance of the Savannah River Federal Navigation Channel.
South Carolina’s rural Jasper County initiated condemnation action on 1,776 acres of the property for the purpose of leasing a large portion of the land to a private company for the construction of a container port terminal. The Georgia Assembly opposed Jasper County’s attempt to take the property and reaffirmed its support for development of terminal facilities in Savannah by the Georgia Ports Authority.
Savannah, which competes with the Port of Charleston, S.C., and other East Coast ports, has a significant stake in keeping competition at bay. At the time of its resolution, the Georgia Assembly stated that more than 80,000 jobs in Georgia were directly or indirectly supported by the port sector operations. Those jobs produced $1.8 billion in wages annually, the resolution continued. As a measure of further economic impact, the legislators quantified that 1,800 Georgia-based businesses import and export goods via Georgia ports. Containerized cargo represents 70% of the total economic impact of the Georgia ports.
South Carolina won a court battle to condemn the land and lease it to Stevedoring Services of America to develop a $450 million deepwater port terminal, but it lost the South Carolina Supreme Court appeal mounted by the Georgia Dept. of Transportation. The lower court had agreed the jobs and additional tax base created by the project amounted to public use because, as leaseholder, the county could be viewed as the property owner.
The South Carolina Supreme Court disagreed and cited a Charleston case where the city attempted to condemn property and lease it to another operator. In that case, the property was only considered to be “public use” when the city agreed to operate the proposed parking garage instead of leasing it to a private operator.
One positive outcome of the battle may be the formation of a joint port authority. In the meantime, the fate of the additional Southeastern container terminal remains undecided.