Viewpoint: Charleston Harbor funding key to state’s economic future

Published Feb. 18, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Two weeks ago the Maritime Association of S.C. celebrated its 88th year of existence — an existence that is tied directly to Charleston Harbor and the $60 billion in goods that travel through it every year.

But MASC is not the only entity impacted directly by Charleston Harbor. Its existence has a profound impact on our entire state economy — accounting for one in 11 jobs and $12 billion in state wages with an overall $50 billion annual economic impact. Whether moving automobiles, chemicals, heavy machinery, agriculture, raw materials, furniture or appliances, an efficient, effective and competitive Port of Charleston with a deep harbor is a vital component in the supply chain and operations of these industry sectors.

D. Loy Stewart Jr.
D. Loy Stewart Jr.
Pam Zaresk
Pam Zaresk

As a trade association whose mission is to promote, protect and advance our state port system, we would argue that Charleston Harbor is our state’s most important natural asset — and that both maintaining its depth while endeavoring to deepen it are two of South Carolina’s most important economic development priorities.

And let’s be clear — maintaining its current depth and deepening Charleston Harbor are two separate but intertwined projects — both essential to South Carolina’s current and future prosperity. The recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill had funding for both of these projects ($14.8 million and $1.2 million, respectively) — which is why its passage was so significant.

While the Port of Charleston boasts the deepest water in the Southeast at 45 feet, this depth must be continually maintained — to the tune of $15 million per year — in order to simply remain competitive. These funds are part of the annual appropriation process and come out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which is populated from fees collected at various ports like the Port of Charleston. It is fully funded by these fees and not by any other revenue source.

At the same time, a 50-foot depth is being studied to meet future shipping demands imposed by a new generation of post-Panamax ships that are now part of the supply chain. The importance of this study cannot be overstated. A deeper channel will facilitate a huge increase in new cargo traversing our docks — resulting in waves of economic growth to every corner of our state. While not an annual appropriation, nor allocated from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, money to continue the feasibility study is vital since it must be completed and approved before deepening can move forward.

Make no mistake — these are federal responsibilities. While in some cases a state match is required (as with the study), the General Survey Act of 1824 established the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ role as the agency responsible for our country’s navigation system. As such, Congress must fund the Army Corps if these projects are to come to fruition. Simply put, our Port and our economy will dry up without these Army Corps appropriations.

The S.C. State Ports Authority, the maritime business community and business interests across the state have gone to great lengths to help educate our congressional delegation about the importance of these initiatives, where the funding comes from and the need for their unified support. Thankfully, a majority of our delegation — including Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rep. Jim Clyburn, Rep. Joe Wilson, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Rep. Trey Gowdy and Rep. Tom Rice — demonstrated their support for our port and their commitment to our state by voting in favor of the recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill that included funding for both of the aforementioned projects.

It’s that type of support and leadership that prompted the Maritime Association of S.C. to honor Sen. Graham and Rep. Clyburn, previously, at our annual gala. They clearly understand the huge role the Port of Charleston plays in attracting new capital investment to South Carolina, $5.4 billion last year, as well as its daily operational impact.

It’s tremendously encouraging that our delegation members from the Upstate, Pee Dee and Midlands all placed port funding high on their priority list and voted to invest in South Carolina’s future rather than vote to jeopardize it.

Those who voted in favor of the spending bill should all be commended. Hopefully our entire congressional delegation will follow suit in fiscal year 2015 and beyond and realize the Port of Charleston is our past — and our future.

The Maritime Association of S.C. is a nonprofit trade association whose mission is to promote, protect and advance South Carolina’s port system and associated businesses. D. Loy Stewart Jr. is president of Detyens Shipyards and is the 2014 chairman of MASC. Pam Zaresk is the president of MASC.

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