Charleston Harbor deepening funds in president’s budget

  • Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The President’s budget once again includes funds to continue Charleston’s Post-45 Harbor Deepening, a project designated last year by the administration as one of its priority infrastructure projects. Released last week, the fiscal year 2014 budget includes a $1.165-million allocation to continue the considerable progress on the project’s feasibility study, now at its midpoint.

“We are grateful to the administration for including Charleston’s project in the budget for a second year in a row, as well as their commitment of resources to expeditiously advance our project,” said Bill Stern, chairman of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) Board of Directors. “This funding means that Charleston’s study can proceed to completion with absolutely zero funding restraints, as both the federal and the port’s contributions have been fully committed at this point.”

The feasibility study is cost-shared 50/50 between the federal government and the SCPA, which committed to accelerate its half of the study funds as needed to continue advancing the project. A national measure to modernize U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works projects targets completion of the feasibility study and necessary reviews by September 2015 at a cost of $13 million or less. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is scheduled to be released next year.

“Leaders at all levels of government have recognized the Port of Charleston’s importance to the state’s, the region’s and the nation’s economy, and we are thankful for the efforts of our Congressional Delegation, led by Senator Graham and Congressman Clyburn, the South Carolina Legislature and Mayor Riley.” Stern said.

Last session, the South Carolina General Assembly set aside $300 million to cover the estimated cost of construction for a 50-foot deepening project in Charleston. The funds would cover both the state’s 60 percent share of the project’s cost as well as the federal government’s 40 percent share, if needed, thereby removing any funding constraint.

The president’s budget also included $14.825 million for maintenance dredging in Charleston Harbor.

Overall allocations to civil works for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 are $4.7 billion, a 5.5 percent decrease from the 2012 enacted level. The president’s budget “focuses on the highest priority work within the agency’s three main missions,” which includes commercial navigation, and “emphasizes investments in construction projects with high economic and environmental returns,” according to the document. The corps’ investigations budget includes funding for studies related to the deepening of eight U.S. ports, including four East Coast ports, two Gulf ports and two West Coast ports. Importantly, the budget summary notes that the administration’s Task Force on Ports is developing a nationwide strategy to guide investments related to port infrastructure, creating a network “that is more efficient, safe, secure, resilient and environmentally sustainable.” The budget document also notes that the administration is working with the corps to establish a national infrastructure bank to help finance port deepening projects and other major water resource activities.

The corps stated in its Reconnaissance Study in 2010 that Charleston is likely “the cheapest South Atlantic harbor to deepen to 50 feet.” Last July, the administration named the Charleston Harbor Post-45 Project as one of seven projects in five ports for We Can’t Wait, a new initiative targeted to expedite the most critical infrastructure projects in the country.

With 45 feet of depth at mean low water, Charleston currently has the deepest channels in the region and can handle ships drafting up to 48 feet on high tide. Deepening Charleston Harbor to 50 feet will open the port to handling larger post-Panamax container ships 24 hours a day.

Nearly 20 percent of the port’s ship calls so far in 2013 were vessels drafting greater than 39.5 feet, the current maximum depth at the Panama Canal. Ocean carriers are beginning to shift services in the Asia-U.S. East Coast trade to utilizing the Suez Canal in order to deploy larger vessels and take advantage of economies of scale.

Already this year, 21 ships with actual docking or sailing drafts 43 feet or greater have called Charleston, which is the only port in the region today able to handle these vessels.

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