Water resources act one step closer to president’s desk

By Andy Owens
aowens@scbiznews.com
Published Oct. 24, 2013

The U.S. House approved a bill Wednesday that would speed the review process for infrastructure projects — such as deepening Charleston Harbor — and provide cash for maintaining smaller ports, for instance Georgetown.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act moved out of a committee about a month ago to go to the House, which easily passed the bill 417-3 without any earmarks.

Now the bill goes to a congressional conference committee to iron out differences between the Senate and House versions before going to the president’s desk. The Senate passed the bill in May, but Congress has not passed a water resources bill since 2007.

The act authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out studies, construction and maintenance of the nation’s ports, waterways and infrastructure needs without requiring inclusion in a water bill.

The bill also keeps infrastructure projects from getting bogged down by years of delays by requiring feasibility studies to be completed within three years at a cost of not more than $3 million in federal money.

The Charleston Post-45 Harbor Deepening project is in the study phase, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District plans to finish by September 2015.

“WRRDA will expedite review processes to keep projects like Charleston’s Post-45 Harbor Deepening from facing unnecessary delays and will help provide maintenance funding for emerging ports like Georgetown,” S.C. State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said in a news release.

Newsome said the passage reinforces the importance of approving projects that keep the U.S. globally competitive. He thanked the leadership of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and South Carolina’s entire House delegation.

“Fundamentally, this bill is about jobs,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., in a statement after the bill was passed. “Not just the jobs in constructing these improvements to our infrastructure, but current and future jobs that will depend on a modern, efficient transportation system that will allow American businesses to compete and prosper in a global marketplace.”

S.C. State Ports Authority board Chairman Bill Stern said the conference committee was the bill’s last hurdle.

“We’re hopeful its final version includes language that removes barriers to the construction phase of harbor deepening projects, includes funding for emerging ports and increases the threshold for federal maintenance from 45 feet to 50 feet,” Stern said.

Congressman Trey Gowdy, R-Greenville, said transportation infrastructure projects help support the entire state’s economy and link the Upstate’s manufacturing sector to the Charleston waterfront.

“The Port of Charleston is important for growing industries like those in the Spartanburg-Greenville area to ship their goods, but bureaucracy has jeopardized critical improvements,” Gowdy said. “Today the House passed a bill to improve America’s competitiveness and provide needed flexibility and streamlining for projects like the port.”

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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