The President of the United States has named Charlestonâ€™s Post 45 Harbor Deepening Project one of the nationâ€™s seven priority infrastructure projects, committing that the projectâ€™s study and necessary reviews will be completed by September 2015.
The initial list of projects, which is part of the Administrationâ€™s We Canâ€™t Wait initiative, is targeted to expedite the most critical infrastructure projects in the country. Charlestonâ€™s harbor deepening is one of seven projects in five ports included in the initiative, which was announced by The White House Wednesday evening.
The news builds upon last weekâ€™s update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineersâ€™ Charleston District announcing a reduced timeline and cost estimate for Charlestonâ€™s feasibility study. Under the new Administration program, the study and federal reviews now will be further expedited and will be completed up to one year earlier.
â€śThis announcement represents more good news for our deepening project, and demonstrates that the highest levels of our government understand the critical need to advance this project,â€ť said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA). â€śIn just two years, we have gone from not being included in the Presidentâ€™s Budget to now being a top priority. We are grateful for the Administrationâ€™s commitment.â€ť
We Canâ€™t Wait is a direct result of a Presidential Executive Order issued in March, which called for a government-wide effort to streamline the permitting and review process for vital infrastructure projects in communities across the nation.
The SCPA, along with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Congressman Jim Clyburn and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, in April sent letters to the Administration and members of the steering committee charged with this initiative, asking that they include Charlestonâ€™s Post 45 Project in their priority infrastructure list. The steering committee, comprised of leadership of the U.S. Army as well as the federal departments of Transportation, Commerce and Agriculture, participated in the selection process.
â€śThis priority infrastructure program is a natural extension of the Obama Administrationâ€™s export initiative,â€ť Newsome said. â€śThere is clearly a recognition that in order to double the nationâ€™s exports â€“ which are primarily sourced from the Southeast region â€“ a port in this region must be deepened to at least 50 feet to accommodate the largest ships expected to call our coast without tidal restriction. We anticipate a favorable cost-to-benefit ratio in the Chiefâ€™s Report allowing for a true post-Panamax harbor allowing for two-way vessel traffic.â€ť
A report to Congress released last month by the Corps of Engineersâ€™ Institute for Water Resources indicated that modernizing Southeast and Gulf ports was most critical to serving the nationâ€™s export needs over the coming years.
In February, the Obama Administration included $3.5 million toward the project’s feasibility study in the President’s Budget for fiscal year 2013. The deepening of Charleston Harbor to 50 feet is predicted to provide significant economic benefit to the Southeast region and the entire nation, with $106 million in net benefit to the nation estimated on an annual basis.
Last month, the South Carolina Legislature committed $300 million in the state budget to fund the construction of a post-45-foot harbor project for the Port of Charleston. This allocation could cover the entire estimated cost to deepen the harbor to 50 feet or greater, once the project receives authorization from Congress.
With 45 feet of water at mean low tide, Charleston Harbor is currently the deepest port in the region, serving ships drawing up to 48 feet of water on the tides. Deepening Charleston Harbor would open the port to the biggest vessels 24 hours a day, under any tidal condition. The Corps stated in its Reconnaissance Study in 2010 that Charleston is likely “the cheapest South Atlantic harbor to deepen to 50 feet.”
About the South Carolina State Ports Authority
The South Carolina State Ports Authority, established by the state’s General Assembly in 1942, owns and operates public seaport facilities in Charleston and Georgetown, handling international commerce valued at more than $58 billion annually while receiving no direct taxpayer subsidy. An economic development engine for the state, port operations facilitate 260,800 jobs across South Carolina and nearly $45 billion in economic activity each year.
Dredging Today Staff, July 19, 2012; Image: port-of-charleston