Army Corps of Engineers refines potential port deepening routes

By Liz Segrist
Published Sept. 10, 2013

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Charleston refined three alternatives for deepening the Port of Charleston, according to Army Corps leaders at a trade conference Monday.

“When four harbors on the East Coast are authorized to be 50 feet … it’s pretty clear to me that an exporting region like the Southeast needs a harbor at 50 feet to handle the heavy cargo,” said S.C. State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome, referring to the New York, Baltimore, Norfolk, Va., and Miami ports. “The Southeast region, in our judgment, will suffer if the harbor can’t be deepened.”

S.C. Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome said the deepening of the Port of Charleston is crucial for growth in the Southeast and the U.S. during a trade conference on the Isle of Palms on Monday. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
S.C. Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome said the deepening of the Port of Charleston is crucial for growth in the Southeast and the U.S. during a trade conference on the Isle of Palms on Monday. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
Logistics experts, Army Corps leaders and port executives are among the speakers at the S.C. International Trade Conference this week in the Isle of Palms. The Army Corps discussed its dredging options Monday.

It could dredge channel segments to either the Wando and Navy Base terminals, which are undergoing detailed analysis at 48, 50 and 52 feet, or from the Navy Base to North Charleston terminal, which are undergoing detailed analysis at 47 and 48 feet, said Brian Williams, the Army Corps’ Charleston District project manager.

It could also dredge turning basins and widen channels, which are some alternatives developed in concert with harbor and tug pilots, Williams said.

“It may be 50 feet or it may be something close to it. We’ll help to determine that,” said Lt. Col. John Litz, the command of the Army Corps’ Charleston District.

The Army Corps of Engineers is working toward a September 2015 deadline to provide a recommendation to Congress on whether to deepen the harbor beyond its current depth of 45 feet to accommodate larger ships expected to flood the East Coast after the Panama Canal expansion opens.

The Port of Charleston can accommodate post-Panamax ships now by timing high tide. Rodolfo Sabonge, executive vice president of the Panama Canal Authority, said Tuesday at the trade conference that the Panama Canal expansion is 73% complete.

“The deepening of our harbor is our most important strategic priority because we have to be able to handle those big ships without restriction,” Newsome said. “Those lines are not going to wait.”

The Army Corps recently completed its third and final study of the Charleston Harbor. Rock core samples were sent to a Marietta, Ga., lab to determine the strength of rock in the area.

Preliminary tests show the dredging can be done by methods previously used in the harbor, such as drilling, instead of blasting.

The final results of those tests will help the Army Corps determine the estimated cost of the deepening project. The Army Corps will release its proposal next summer. Until then, it will study the potential places and ways to dredge, as well as the environmental, engineering and economic impacts.

“The main goal of the study is to reduce transportation inefficiencies,” Williams said. “We’re trying to move ships in and out of the harbor as efficiently as possible. It saves time and it saves money.”

Currently, the harbor deepening project study is estimated to cost around $13 million. Newsome said harbor deepening and its infrastructure is crucial for U.S. growth.

The S.C. Legislature set aside $300 million for construction costs, including $180 million for South Carolina’s portion and $120 million if federal funding doesn’t come through.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2013, or WRDA, passed 83-14 in the U.S. Senate in May. It is now working its way through the U.S. House.

“That’s got to happen otherwise we’re all dressed up with nowhere to go. We don’t move forward with the deepening project without authorization,” Newsome said.

Previous coverage
Army Corps drills samples to figure dredging costs

Earnings up at S.C. State Ports Authority as projects move forward

Obama memo to streamline harbor deepenings, other projects

Senate passes water resources bill

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