Rising mistrust and acrimony from South Carolina officials working to build a joint port with Georgia on the Savannah River led two South Carolina officials to resign Thursday from a commission that oversees the river.
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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