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Did S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley sell out South Carolina’s maritime interests for a few cheap campaign contributions and a prime time speaking slot at next summer’s Republican National Convention?

That remains to be seen … but S.C. Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) isn’t focused on the pay-to-play drama associated with Haley’s instantly infamous “Savannah River Sellout.”

Instead, Davis is zeroing in on how Haley’s controversial appeasement of Savannah’s port expansion plans adversely impacts the state of South Carolina’s long-term economic competitiveness.

Earlier this month, Haley’s appointees to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) reversed the agency’s previous decision and granted a controversial environmental permit to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That decision – which has prompted outrage from Republicans and Democrats alike – would enable the Port of Savannah to handle larger container ships, thus enhancing its competitive advantage at the expense of the Port of Charleston while effectively eliminating any chance that a deep water port will ever be constructed in Jasper County, S.C.

The decision also guarantees that U.S. taxpayers will be on the hook for Savannah’s expansion – rather than private capital going to fund a Jasper facility that would create thousands of South Carolina jobs and cause much less damage to the environment.

Haley has been accused of receiving financial and political favors from moneyed interests in Georgia in exchange for her advocacy on behalf of the Port of Savannah – and one Atlanta fundraiser has already been confirmed.

Yet while Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler and Attorney General Alan Wilson investigate those allegations within the context of Haley’s broader flip-flop on port-related issues (Haley started off her term as an anti-Georgia antagonist), Davis is driving home just how bad this deal really is for the state.

“The DHEC board failed in its duty to protect the economic and environmental interests of South Carolina,” Davis said in a statement released shortly after Haley held a press conference defending herself against pay-to-play allegations.

In his statement, Davis meticulously documents how the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have failed to honor their agreements regarding a spoil easement that must be lifted in order for the Jasper project to proceed.

“The failure of the GPA and the Corps to keep its promises and follow the law is a classic case of politicians, political appointees and government bureaucrats protecting a powerful special interest – the Port of Savannah,” Davis said. “And it sickens me to see one of our own state agencies help them do it.”

According to Davis, the GPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are deliberately refusing to release the easement because they don’t want to see the Jasper project built. Both entities have ignored directives from the U.S. Congress – saying that releasing the easement would be “difficult.”

Davis says that’s hogwash – referring to the speed with which the Corps negotiated the release of an unrelated easement per the terms of the SCDHEC agreement.

“In a matter of hours, the Corps commits to releasing its easement on 1,690 acres – something that it has not done in regard to the Jasper County port site despite four years worth of work and millions of dollars in required studies,” he says.

On Monday, Haley pledged her support for a Jasper Port – saying it would eventually be needed to handle “overflow” from the Port of Charleston.

Davis challenged her – and other state officials – to put up or shut up.

“It is way past time for South Carolina’s statewide elected officials – including the governor, the state attorney general and our United States senators – to insist that the GPA and the Corps keep its promises and follow the law, and immediately release the spoil easement from the Jasper County port site, and allow its development by private companies with private capital to proceed,” he said, adding that “it is shameful that public officials and bureaucrats have blatantly blocked the development, with private capital, of a tremendous maritime asset in Jasper County.”

Davis is absolutely correct.

Our state is sitting on the last deepwater port site on the Eastern Seaboard – a competitive asset that’s potentially worth billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs to our state. Yet rather than aggressively pushing to develop this asset with private funds, Haley is intent on accommodating a government-funded project that would primarily benefit the state of Georgia.

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