The Army Corps of Engineers expects the deepening of Charleston's harbor to be completed sooner and cost less than it originally projected.
In an update to port stakeholders, the Army Corps of Engineers' Charleston District said the feasibility study for the project to deepen the harbor to 50 feet from the current 45 feet, which it initially expected would not be complete for five to eight years, is now expected to be finalized in fewer than four years from now.
This means a 50-foot deepening project for Charleston harbor can be realized within this decade, four years earlier than initial projections, the South Carolina Ports Authority said.
"The deepening of Charleston harbor is the No. 1 strategic priority for this port community," said Jim Newsome, SCPA president and CEO. "We are encouraged by today's news that Charleston's deepening project will be considered a national example for completing studies more expeditiously."
Newsome has been pushing hard to shorten the time line for completing the deepening project, which the corps originally projected to be completed as late as 2024.
The corps also announced a cost savings of about $5 million for the feasibility study of the project. The study is expected to cost about $15 million rather than $20 million as previously estimated. Both the time and cost savings are the result of a new initiative launched at the headquarters level of the Corps of Engineers to streamline the civil works planning process.
"In just over one year, this project has made tremendous leaps and bounds, which is a credit to the many leaders who have advocated on our behalf," Newsome said. "The corps is an excellent partner, and we will continue to work collaboratively to realize our deepening project, which is essential to serving the changing needs of trade, as quickly as possible."
The SCPA said deepening of Charleston harbor to 50 feet is predicted to provide significant economic benefit to the Southeast region and the entire nation, with $106 million in net benefit to the nation estimated on an annual basis.
In February, the Obama administration included $3.5 million toward the project's feasibility study in the president's budget for fiscal year 2013. That allocation, along with the funds already included in the corps' work plan, means the federal share of the feasibility study is more than halfway funded.
The SCPA said its funding toward the feasibility study can be accelerated as needed to keep progress moving forward. The corps and the SCPA signed a feasibility cost-sharing agreement in June 2011 to officially kick off work on the study.
Last month, the South Carolina Legislature committed $300 million in the state budget to fund the construction of a post-45-foot harbor project for the Port of Charleston. This allocation could cover the entire estimated cost to deepen the harbor to 50 feet, once the project receives authorization from Congress.