Graham: Water resources bill vital to port deepening

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 18, 2013

The water resources bill is the vehicle that will allow the Port of Charleston deepening project to move forward, Sen. Lindsey Graham said in Charleston Friday.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 will enable the Port of Charleston deepening project to move ahead with construction in September 2015 even if the federal government hasn’t authorized the project by that point.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said the water resources bill is vital for keeping the Port of Charleston deepening project on schedule. (Photo/Liz Segrist)

Sen. Lindsey Graham said the water resources bill is vital for keeping the Port of Charleston deepening project on schedule. (Photo/Liz Segrist)

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The state set aside roughly $300 million for the deepening of the Charleston Harbor to accommodate the bigger ships headed to the East Coast after the Panama Canal finishes its expansion in 2015. The project still needs federal authorization and reimbursement.

“If we can get to 50 feet and we’re able to accept post-Panamax ships in a timely fashion, the growth potential of Charleston is absolutely unlimited,” Graham said during a news conference at the S.C. Ports Authority in downtown Charleston. “If we fail, we’re dead in the water. So failure is not an option.”

The water resources bill allows the state to “forward fund” and pay for construction beginning in 2015 to prevent any delays. The state can get authorization and reimbursement from the federal government later, Graham said.

The bill also includes a provision for the federal government to fund operations and maintenance for ports up to 50 feet deep.

“It says 100% of maintenance money will come from federal government if we get to 50 feet,” Graham said. “That’s a big deal for us in the future.”

The water resources bill, which was passed by the Senate and House this year, now goes to a congressional conference committee to iron out differences between the Senate and House versions before going to the president’s desk.

“We’re really on the cusp of having the deepest harbor in the Southeast,” S.C. State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District Lt. Col. John Litz said the feasibility study is on schedule and within budget. The data collection from the Charleston Harbor is complete, and the team is now studying deepening alternatives.

The Army Corps will make its recommendations to Congress in September 2015.

“I believe that we’re going to get to 50 feet,” Graham said. “I believe that the 30% increase in container traffic that we’ve enjoyed under Jim’s leadership is the tip of the iceberg.”

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist.

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