Graham proposes plan to fund harbor deepening study

By Matt Tomsic
Published March 14, 2011

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham outlined a plan today to raise the $400,000 that was omitted from the president’s budget and is needed for a feasibility study to deepen Charleston Harbor.

Graham, R-S.C., spoke during a news conference after a tour of the Port of Charleston with Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. Darcy heads the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Graham said he drafted language to allow the corps to spend money on the feasibility study through this fiscal year. The language is in a so-called continuing resolution — which would fund the government to Oct. 1 in the absence of a formal appropriations bill — that Congress is debating now.

To cover funding for the next few years, Graham said he will also propose legislation that will direct the corps to study the impact of the Panama Canal expansion on American ports and decide which ports should be deepened. The legislation also would create an account from which the corps could draw money for those studies.

“There is no form of good government that would allow this harbor to die,” Graham said. “The idea of not being successful is off the table.”

Local lawmakers began looking for ways to fund the study after President Barack Obama left the study out of his budget and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., proposed a two-year moratorium on earmarks. The S.C. State Ports Authority was seeking a $400,000 earmark to fund the first year of a multiyear study. Graham has said he would support an earmark if there were no other viable option.

DeMint also has proposed a solution to finding the federal money, but Graham said his proposal differs. DeMint’s reforms would give the corps the power to prioritize spending through its own budgeting process instead of through congressional earmarks.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the S.C. State Ports Authority, said Charleston is pushing to be a next-generation harbor for the Southeast.

“There needs to be a (Southeastern) Atlantic harbor at 50 feet, and we’re the logical one,” Newsome said.

About four ships a week must wait for high tides because of the harbor’s depth, and that number is expected to rise.

If Charleston Harbor can’t accommodate that rise, Graham said, the port could lose its competitiveness, which would kill the “economic engine of the state.”

Reach Matt Tomsic at 843-849-3144.

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