Savannah River officials quit over squabble with Georgia

Bill Bethea and David Posek quit the Savannah River Maritime Commission, which supervises matters such as navigability of the river for South Carolina, a week after legislators from that state questioned whether Georgia is seriously pursuing creation of the joint port below Savannah.

South Carolina state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, a Republican and chairman of the Finance Committee, said he might work to kill Georgia's much-coveted deepening of the Savannah River.

Georgia has sought federal approval for a decade to deepen the river so larger container ships can reach the Garden City Terminal above the city of Savannah. Without a deeper channel, the largest ships will likely avoid Savannah, the nation's fourth-busiest container port.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford agreed two years ago to develop the so-called Jasper Ocean Terminal on 1,500 acres once owned by Georgia on the South Carolina side of the river. Construction wouldn't likely start for a decade, though.

Leatherman and other legislators have said that a deepened river, and a busy Garden City Terminal, could indefinitely postpone construction of the Jasper port. He has asked that a consultant be hired "to ensure that Georgia doesn't get" a federal permit to deepen the river.

Bethea, who's also chairman of a bi-state Jasper port committee, said Thursday that he "did not feel that I could continue to be a part of a commission which may or may not find itself taking a role in opposition to (the river's deepening)."

Leatherman hasn't returned calls this week. A spokesman for the Georgia Ports Authority declined to comment.

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