HARDEEVILLE, S.C. — Hardeeville welcomed its first veterinarian a few weeks ago the same way this job-hungry town in one of South Carolina’s poorest counties celebrated openings last year of a new hardware store and a Mexican restaurant — with a ribbon cutting and a speech by the mayor.
The city’s small economic successes may help explain why Jasper County has patiently spent more than two decades inching toward a dream development: a $500 million seaport on the Savannah River, which divides South Carolina and Georgia. Now some supporters fear the port won’t happen because of political bickering between officials from shipping rivals Charleston and Savannah.
“Economically, we have been so stagnant that anything that opens is a big deal,” said Paul Bathe, a struggling sign printer who heads Hardeeville’s Chamber of Commerce. “It would definitely be devastating to the county to not have that port happen.”
Although no concrete figures are available, officials agree the proposed 1,500-acre port would give an economic boost to an area of South Carolina where jobs so are scarce that many commute across the state line to work.
Port officials from Georgia and South Carolina plan to meet Tuesday in Savannah to discuss the future of the proposed port. Both states agreed four years ago to build it together.
But the states have a reason to quarrel. State-run ports in Savannah and Charleston are scrambling for federal permits and funds to deepen their harbors to make room for supersize ships.
Jasper County has been caught in the middle because South Carolina has raised some objections to Georgia’s plans to deepen the Savannah River. Recent letters between the states’ port chairmen suggested South Carolina may withdraw from the Jasper County project unless Georgia changes its plans for Savannah’s harbor.