What is, and why build, SAIT?
The South Atlantic International Terminal is a new container shipping terminal
planned by Jasper County, S.C., for a 1,863-acre site on the Savannah River. The new terminal would be owned and overseen by Jasper County and operated
under contract by its agent, SSA Marine.
The new terminal would provide a channel up to 50 feet deep that could serve
the world’s largest container ships, which is not now possible in the South Atlantic region. Existing terminals at Charleston, S.C., and Garden City, Ga., are
nearing maximum capacity, and the new Jasper County terminal is needed to
meet regional growth in container shipping.
The Jasper County terminal would have the capacity needed to handle the
region’s additional growth in container shipping. The terminal would be large
enough to move projected volumes of 550,000 to 1.1 million container units
during its first decade of operation. In its first phase of development, the terminal
would have eight gantry cranes, 3,600 feet of ship berth, and 200 acres of
An economic study projects enough market demand to enable the region’s
container volume to double by 2011, if the Jasper County terminal is built. This
would bring many new jobs to Jasper County and new economic opportunities to
the entire region. The new terminal will be able to easily service the larger ships
of the future, ensuring the region’s ability to participate more fully in the global
Economic opportunity may be lost to other areas if Jasper County doesn’t start
proceeding with the terminal soon. Container volume is growing rapidly, and that
growth may go elsewhere if it doesn’t come to the South Atlantic. Virginia, North Carolina and Florida are rapidly moving ahead with a landlord-tenant model of public-private partnership projects similar to what Jasper is seeking to do.
A new deep-water terminal is a dramatically more beneficial public use for this
1,800-acre site than using it for dredge spoils. The new terminal would effectively
displace only 4 to 7 percent of current capacity for dredge spoils. Jasper County
has repeatedly stated its willingness to work with the Army Corps of Engineers
and Georgia to find alternative sites for dredge spoils, but the county’s site is the
best on the Eastern Seaboard for a deep-water container terminal.
Yes, and to GPA and SPA. The County remains willing to work with any of them,
and believes it will successfully do so when the litigation is finalized. Georgia DOT, as SPA is discovering, has preferred to let the courts resolve the
condemnation issue first.
Jasper County officials conceived and promoted the new terminal for a decade
before anyone recognized its potential, and in fact SPA told them to proceed.
Jasper County has developed a management approach to get the terminal built
within three years after permits are issued, and without state taxpayer funds.
The county has its plan under way and has contracted with SSA Marine, one of the world’s leaders in terminal design, construction and operation, to build and
operate the terminal in a timely manner.
SSA Marine is America’s premier container terminal developer and operator, and
one of the leaders worldwide. The company handles more than 20 million
container units per year through its 150 marine and rail terminals. SSA Marine
has a proven track record of generating economic development success stories
in the United States and around the world. The company was honored for having
the “Best Overall Standards for Marine Terminal Operators” in Marine Digest’s poll of carriers, port authorities and customers in 2004.
SSA Marine is Jasper County’s agent under contract to design, construct and
operate the South Atlantic International Terminal.
When neither SPA nor GPA showed any interest in the Jasper site, the County
began discussions with marine terminal operators. SSA Marine was identified as an appropriate terminal operator.
In 2003 the South Carolina Supreme Court found the county’s agreement wasn’t
clearly for “public use.” Jasper County following the guidance provided by that
court decision retained both Municipal Advisors’ Group of Boston and Mercator
Transport Group to do an independent review of the County’s agreements.
They found the agreements to be very good for the County and the public but
also recommended some modifications. For example, the County contract with
SSA Marine, which runs for 32 years, specifically now states that the County will
own the terminal and all facilities, compared with the 99-year lease in the previous agreement. In the new agreement, the County has contracted with SSA
Marine to design, build and operate the terminal under the County’s supervision.
The consultant review noted that, “It is neither certain nor highly probable that
any renewed search for a prospective port developer/manager would result in the
successful procurement of services that includes such support.”
Under the County’s contract with SSA Marine, Jasper County would receive an
annual payment of $4 million. It would receive an additional $2 per container move, which is expected to generate another $1 million to $2 million per year.
In addition, the County will retain a 50-acre site adjacent to terminal operations
for further economic development projects.
Yes they did, but it is not that simple. If SPA wants to condemn the same
property, they have to prove they have a real plan and financing for the
project. They cannot just condemn without demonstrating that have an actual
“public use,” or just to eliminate competition. Jasper County also has a sizeable legal interest and is a necessary party to any condemnation of the site in
There is no public indication that they do. In August of 2005, SPA announced
that they had 11 companies expressing an interest in working with them in one,
or both, of the Charleston and Jasper County projects (SPA press release
8/3/05). Yet by December, SPA press releases only discuss progress towards a
“possible” agreement for Charleston port expansion. Not only do they fail to even mention Jasper County, but they dropped their earlier questionable claim of “Charleston and Jasper projects being on parallel courses,” which had been
claimed in their press releases throughout 2005.
When asked how they would finance a project in Jasper they have referenced
using proceeds from the sale of Daniel Island. But they do not know how much they will receive or when they will finalize such a sale. More importantly, the Legislature has directed SPA to build Charleston, which will cost $400 to 750
million. SPA only has about $150 million in unused bonding capacity.
SPA has not shown that it understands what it really takes to develop a marine
terminal in a rural area. They have never undertaken such a project
before. Jasper County’s agent by contrast, SSA Marine, has done many of them and successfully so. To be successful, it requires a great deal more than just
constructing a terminal. In this instance it requires significant rail, road, water,
sewer and related infrastructure development. It will require a jobs training program. It will require police, fire, emergency medical and other support
Jasper County understands and has anticipated the need for these services. Its
plan and contract provides revenue to finance them. In this particular site, a general purpose, municipal government like a county is
much better qualified than a single purpose government like the SPA to ensure a
successful marine terminal.
The Ports Authority would take all revenue from the terminal and would not
provide any funding to Jasper County. However, the County would theoretically
still be responsible for building roads and other infrastructure, even though they
have no financial resources to do so. In such a situation, it is likely that most of
the secondary economic benefit would occur across the river in Georgia.
It will probably have to do so, but that would be determined in court. When Jasper County sought to condemn Georgia DOT’s dredge spoil site, they were
appraised at almost $9 million. However for SPA to successfully condemn the
land, the court will also consider Jasper County’s legal interest in the land. The County’s work to date and its financed plan is worth considerably more than the
condemnation of a dredge spoil site. While no actual appraisal has been done,
the value of the Jasper County project as it stands today probably exceeds $100
There are two main reasons. The first is the County and the public have not seen
any real evidence that SPA will build it, at least not any time soon. Second, SPA doesn’t have a plan or the financing to successfully and in a timely manner bring
a marine terminal on-line in a rural location. SPA’s public statements do not even
indicate that they understand all of what would be involved.