Biden: Deeper harbor key to global competitiveness

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published Sept. 16, 2013

Vice President Joe Biden said during a visit to the S.C. State Ports Authority in Charleston that manufacturing is coming home and the state needs to have its infrastructure ready in order to compete globally.

“Charleston is coming back. South Carolina is coming back. America is coming back,” said Biden, garnering claps and cheers from the more than 100 attendees at a news conference today.

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Gov. Nikki Haley said deepening of the Charleston Harbor to 50 feet is crucial to both the state and the country. (Photo/Liz Segrist) Vice President Joe Biden (top, from left), Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and Rep. Jim Clyburn were among those who spoke at the S.C. State Ports Authority today to stress the importance of the deepening of Charleston Harbor to 50 feet. (Photos/Liz Segrist)

He added, “Every time we’ve invested in infrastructure as Democrats, as Republicans — every time we’ve done it, the economy grows.”

Biden visited Charleston as part of his tour of ports along the Eastern Seaboard. He stressed the economic impact of the Port of Charleston and the need to deepen it to accommodate post-Panamax ships.

The United States is far behind Europe, Asia and other regions in investing in infrastructure, and the country needs make it a priority to strengthen the U.S. economy, Biden said as he looked out across Charleston Harbor.

The Panama Canal expansion project is nearly 75% complete and several harbors on the East Coast are racing to get approvals and funding to deepen their harbors to 50 feet to accommodate the bigger ships of the future.

“We’re the world’s leading maritime power,” Biden said. “In order to stay that way, we have to accommodate the future.”

Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford and Jim Clyburn, and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley echoed Biden’s sentiments about the need to deepen the harbor. Riley said the harbor deepening is crucial to the city and to all of the port-related jobs in Charleston and throughout the state.

“The harbor deepening was not something nice to have,” Riley said. “The harbor deepening is essential. With the Panama Canal being widened, ships are being designed to go through the Panama Canal and they need 50 feet of water. If we didn’t get our port deepened to 50 feet, we would not be in competition.”

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

“So I will say to my friends in the federal delegation, this must happen. This has to happen,” Haley said. “This port is important to the state of South Carolina and so important to this country that we can’t let it fail.”

Biden said that the state’s strong manufacturing base, port and technical school system will continue to attract business to the state but that infrastructure is crucial for continued growth in jobs and the economy.

The ports authority is now two years into its 10-year, $1.3 billion capital plan that includes plans to dredge Charleston Harbor, complete the S.C. Inland Port in Greer and finish constructing a container terminal in North Charleston.

“The future, like the past, remains on the high seas. ... It’s profound how much we rely on and how important it is that we remain the largest maritime power in the world,” Biden said. “The future is now.”

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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