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Years of planning to build $4.5B joint South Carolina-Georgia shipping port nears milestone

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Years of planning to build a joint $4.5 billion Georgia-South Carolina container ship terminal on the Savannah River are nearing a milestone.

Consultants told the South Carolina Ports Authority board on Wednesday that a permit will be sought this fall so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can begin environmental studies of the massive project.

The two states have been working together for eight years to develop the 1,500-acre Jasper Ocean Terminal on the South Carolina side of the river just downstream from Savannah.

Permits for the project must be sought now because port capacity in both Charleston and Savannah will begin running out by the mid-2020s, Michael Rieger of consulting firm of Moffat and Nichol told the board.

Environmental studies for the new terminal are expected to take eight years, with construction to follow. If all goes according to plan, the first phase of the terminal could be open in 2029, he said.

The completed terminal, which will be about two hours from the open ocean by ship, is expected to cost about $4.5 billion. The first phase is expected to cost about half of that amount.

With have berths for between eight and 10 vessels, the completed terminal will be the largest single-site container terminal in the nation, the board was told.

Since preliminary plans were drafted back in 2009, there have been some changes in the terminal design, mainly because of the advent of larger container ships.

The planned wharf has now been moved 500 feet back from the river to accommodate larger ships.

And plans for a rail yard at the back of the terminal have been changed to leave enough room so that a 10,000-foot long train can be assembled. The original plan called for space to assemble a 5,000-foot-long train. There are also now plans for two truck gates to serve the terminal instead of one.

In the coming weeks, among other tasks, the consultants will finalize the terminal layout and update the construction schedule and costs.

The already complex project is made even more so because both the Charleston District and the Savannah District of the Army Corps of Engineers have jurisdiction.

The Savannah District has jurisdiction over the river while the Charleston District has jurisdiction over the land on the South Carolina side where the terminal will be built.

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