Army Corps of Engineers’ harbor deepening study remains on schedule

By Liz Segrist
Published Jan. 20, 2014

The harbor deepening study is on schedule and making progress, said Brian Williams, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District.

The Army Corps’ Charleston Harbor Post-45 project is studying whether to deepen the Charleston Harbor and to what depth — 48, 50 or 52 feet — to accommodate the larger ships expected after the Panama Canal expansion opens in 2015.

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The Charleston Harbor is currently 45 feet deep, with 48 feet of draft at high tide.

Shipping lines plan for their larger ships to arrive during high tide or else carry lighter loads, decreasing efficiency, Williams said during The Propeller Club of Charleston’s meeting Thursday night in downtown Charleston.

A deeper harbor would enable many of the larger ships to call on the harbor at any time.

S.C. State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome has advocated for at least 52 feet to accommodate the larger ships that are already being deployed. Williams said 52 feet is a possibility.

The Corps must also consider equipping the harbor with enough capacity to allow large ships to pass one another and for ships to turn around. Williams said the area’s harbor and tug pilots have played a role in analyzing the depths and widths needed.

“If we’re potentially spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds, we must do our due diligence to see if the harbor needs to be deepened and then how to do it,” Williams said.

The Army Corps studied rock core samples last year to determine dredging methods. Currently, the Corps is analyzing the depths and widths needed to accommodate the ships, the costs associated with the dredging and the potential environmental impacts from it.

Once the study is complete, the Corps will begin the preconstruction, engineering and design phase before the plans can be put out for bid and dredging can begin.

The Army Corps anticipates releasing its draft to the public in summer and presenting its recommendations to Congress in September 2015.

“We are focused on getting this done as quickly as possible ... We are aware of how incredibly important this product is to Charleston and its future,” Williams said.

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

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