The deepening of the Port of Charleston took a huge leap forward today when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its Work Plan for the rest of Fiscal Year 2011. The Corps included funds to kick-off the next phase of the Charleston Harbor post-45 foot deepening project, which the agency has estimated will bring $100 million in annual national benefits.
The Corps and the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) will now sign a Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement in the coming days, allowing the project to move into the next phase.
“We could not be more excited for this port, our customers, this state and our nation,” said Bill Stern, chairman of the SCPA Board. “With bigger ships and expanding exports, the United States needs a true 50-foot harbor in the Southeast. At a time of scarce resources, Charleston is the nation’s best buy in harbor deepening. The Corps has made a great decision to include this project.”
The U.S. Congress has already authorized Charleston deepening through the study phases, and the Corps last summer stated in its Reconnaissance Study that Charleston is likely “the cheapest South Atlantic harbor to deepen to 50 feet.”
“Senator Lindsey Graham, Congressman Jim Clyburn and Congressman Tim Scott have each individually championed this project in working with the leadership, the Administration and the Corps,” said Stern. “We are grateful for the support of our Congressional delegation, Governor Nikki Haley and the General Assembly, as well as mayors from across South Carolina led by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. They have all helped highlight how important this project is to our country. We look forward to advancing Charleston Harbor Deepening for the benefit of our state and nation.”
More than 20,000 companies in several dozen states use the Port of Charleston to access global markets. These businesses ship goods worth $50 billion a year through the Charleston Customs District and pay more than $600 million in duties into the General Treasury annually.
Jim Newsome, president & CEO of the SCPA, said port officials, elected leaders, workers and business leaders will certainly take a moment to celebrate before sharpening their focus on the task at hand.
“Our attention now turns to launching the study and securing funds in the FY2012 budget for the Corps to continue with their share of the work,” said Newsome.
The Feasibility Study is estimated to be a three- to five-year process totaling $12-20 million and cost-shared 50/50 by the Federal Government and the local sponsor. The total project is estimated at $300 million.
“These projects are marathons — not sprints — requiring great persistence, involvement and support,” said Newsome. “I’m confident that we have the public support and political leadership to get us across the finish line. And the winners will be U.S. industries, consumers and taxpayers.”
The next Charleston deepening will open the port to all classes of the world’s most modern vessels under any tidal condition. Current channel depths at low tide are 47 feet in the entrance channel and 45 feet in the inner harbor.
Charleston already has the area’s deepest channels and routinely handles ships drawing up to 48 feet on the tides today. More than 300 ships too big for the Panama Canal have already called Charleston, three years before the $5-billion canal expansion is completed in 2014. Greater than 80 percent of the ship capacity on order is for ships too big for the existing canal.
COMMENTS FROM ELECTED OFFICIALS ON CHARLESTON DEEPENING:
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham
“This is a very good day for the Port of Charleston. Today’s announcement is an important first step in a long journey. The Port of Charleston truly is one of South Carolina’s chief economic engines. Harbor deepening is absolutely critical to ensuring the Port of Charleston stays viable in the years ahead. We’ve already begun working on funding for next year.”
Congressman Jim Clyburn
“I am pleased the Obama Administration has included the initial funding for the port study in its current Army Corps budget. This means the Administration has made a commitment to this project, and I will continue working with members of the South Carolina delegation to ensure the port receives the federal support it needs to remain competitive.”
Congressman Tim Scott
“Persistence pays off. We knew dredging the Port of Charleston was a worthy project and we were persistent in ensuring that the Corps knew that, too. This funding decision was based on an open and transparent process, which concluded that the Port Charleston provided the best value in the Southeast, and as such, would be a true asset to our nation.”
Congressman Trey Gowdy
“The Charleston port is an integral part of South Carolina’s economy and a key aspect of our business development strategy. I am pleased with the Corps’ choice to fund the port deepening study, and look forward to continuing to ensure politics don’t get in the way of sound economic decisions.”
Congressman Joe Wilson
“As a native of Charleston, I fully appreciate the port and the important role it plays for the economy of South Carolina. I am grateful the Charleston Harbor is one step closer to being deepened. This is wonderful news for the port of Charleston, the state, and the entire country.”
U.S. Senator Jim DeMint
“I appreciate that after we have ended earmarks, the Corps chose to fund the study for Charleston port deepening based on merit instead of being forced to fund wasteful earmarks based on politics. This is a step in the right direction, but now it is important as ever that we continue to push for long-term spending reforms. We need more transparency on how projects are selected and ensure that the Corps does not become overrun with political earmarks again so that true national priorities like the Charleston port continue to receive the necessary support.”
South Carolina Senator Larry Grooms (Chairman, Ports Authority Review & Oversight Commission)
“Come on in, our water is just fine. It’s a clear message: for Southern markets and those beyond, it’s full steam ahead for Charleston.”
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr.
“I am confident that this critical funding will ensure that the Port of Charleston’s future is secure as a première port on the East Coast. The deepening of Charleston Harbor is a huge economic achievement for the region and is the equivalent of another Boeing or BMW. I want to personally thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for including this funding in the Corps of Engineers Work Plan. The support of Senator Lindsey Graham, Congressman Jim Clyburn and Congressman Tim Scott ensured that this funding was included and will help make it possible for our Port to have a leg up in the competition in the global marketplace.”