Obama includes Charleston Harbor deepening funds in budget

By Matt Tomsic
mtomsic@scbiznews.com
Published April 11, 2013

President Barack Obama included $1.2 million in his fiscal year 2014 budget to continue studying the impacts of deepening Charleston Harbor.

“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 S.C. State Ports Authority 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 study is now at its midpoint as the Army Corps of Engineers examines the economic, engineering and environmental impacts of deepening Charleston Harbor beyond its current depth of 45 feet. Ports officials have stressed the need to deepen the harbor to 50 feet, and the Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District is studying a range of depths.

The study is expected to be completed by 2015 and to cost $13 million. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be released in September 2015.

“We have made great strides on the study in the last year and look forward to continuing this as we go forward,” said Lt. Col. Ed Chamberlayne, Charleston District commander. “We have shortened the timeline and reduced the budget for this study in our efforts to complete this process as quickly and efficiently as possible while looking for the most economically beneficial and environmentally acceptable option for the nation.”

Obama included the deepening project in his budget last year and named the harbor deepening as one of five port projects that are critical for the nation’s infrastructure. During the last General Assembly session, state lawmakers set aside $300 million for the estimated cost of construction, which the state and federal government split. The funds set aside by the state will cover both shares.

The budget also included $14.8 million for maintenance costs in the harbor.

In Georgia, Obama included $1.3 million for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project to cover preconstruction, engineering and design costs as that harbor works toward deepening from 42 feet to 47 feet. The total estimated cost of deepening the Savannah River is $652 million.

“This amount certainly falls far short of what we were hoping for, particularly considering the time pressures we face on this project and the 5-to-1 return on investment our nation will begin to receive once this is completed,” said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal in a statement. “With the understanding that we’ll have a 60-40 federal-state split on funding, Georgia has lived up to its promises. We’ve now put aside $231 million, which is a significant portion of our share. The federal government has funded only a small fraction of its obligations, and we would like to see more and quicker progress on this front.”

In Virginia, the president included $800,000 to study the deepening of Norfolk Harbor and other channels. In New York, Obama included $49 million for construction costs at the New York and New Jersey Harbor.

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