Deepening the Port of Charleston from 45 to 50 feet is expected to be completed sooner and cost less than originally thought, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told local stakeholders at a meeting Wednesday, according to the South Carolina Ports Authority.
Corps officials reiterated the project's feasibility study is now projected to be finalized in less than four years instead of five to eight years, which would allow work to be completed by the end of the decade, the port authority statement reported.
"The deepening of Charleston
Harbor is the number one strategic priority for this port community," Jim Newsome, chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority, said. "We are encouraged by today's news that Charleston's deepening project
will be considered a national example for completing studies more
The Corps also announced a
cost-savings of about $5 million for the feasibility study of the project. The
study is now expected to cost about $15 million rather than $20 million as
previously estimated. Both the time and cost savings are the result of a new
initiative launched at the headquarters level of the Corps of Engineers to
streamline the civil works planning process, the SCPA said.
Two weeks ago, the South Carolina legislature took the proactive step of setting aside an additional $120 million to cover the entire $300 million cost in case Congress authorizes work but does not appropriate money for the federal share of dredging Charleston's navigation channel.
In February, the Obama administration included $3.5 million for the feasibility study in the president's budget for fiscal year 2013. The allocation, along with funds already included in the Corps' work plan means the federal share of the study is more than halfway funded.
The harbor deepening is being pursued to make room for the new class of containerships that can carry triple the amount of containers that ships able to traverse the Panama Canal today. In 2015, a new set of locks is scheduled to be opened in the Panama Canal enabling the bigger vessels to make their way between Asia and the U.S. East Coast. Port officials say a 50-foot harbor would provide a $106 million net economic benefit to the nation per year.
Charleston is able to receive 9,000 TEU vessels on the high tide.
"I'm very pleased the Army Corps
has revised the deepening timeline and made adjustments which allow Charleston
Harbor deepening to be completed sooner and at lower costs. Today's
announcement is a step in the right direction, but there is more that needs to
be done," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement released by the SCPA.
"We still need a national vision that ensures Charleston, and other
ports, are ready to meet the biggest change in international shipping in the
last hundred years," the senator added. "So while I appreciate today's announcement, I also
know Congress has to step up and provide the regulatory relief and funding we
desperately need to push this process forward. Time is of the essence and we
have to get this done." - Eric Kulisch