The planned project to deepen the Port of Charleston’s harbor to 50 feet has been added to the initial list of projects for expedited review under President Obama’s Executive Order on Permitting and Federal Review, which commits the project's study and necessary U.S. government reviews will be completed by September 2015.
The initial list of projects, part of the administration's We Can't Wait initiative, is targeted to expedite the most critical infrastructure projects in the country. Charleston's harbor deepening is one of seven projects in five ports included in the initiative announced by the White House Wednesday evening.
The South Carolina Ports Authority said the news builds on last week's update from the Army Corps of Engineers' Charleston District announcing a reduced timeline and cost estimate for Charleston's feasibility study.
Under the new Obama administration program, the study and federal reviews will be further expedited and completed up to another year earlier.
"This announcement represents more good news for our deepening project, and demonstrates that the highest levels of our government understand the critical need to advance this project," SCPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said. "In just two years, we have gone from not being included in the president's budget to now being a top priority. We are grateful for the administration's commitment."
The We Can't Wait list of projects is the result of a Presidential Executive Order issued in March, which called for a government-wide effort to streamline the permitting and review process for vital infrastructure projects in communities across the nation.
"This priority infrastructure program is a natural extension of the Obama administration's export initiative," Newsome said. "There is clearly a recognition that in order to double the nation's exports — which are primarily sourced from the Southeast region — a port in this region must be deepened to at least 50 feet to accommodate the largest ships expected to call our coast without tidal restriction. We anticipate a favorable cost-to-benefit ratio in the Chief's Report allowing for a true post-Panamax harbor allowing for two-way vessel traffic."
A report to Congress released last month by the Corps of Engineers' Institute for Water Resources indicated that modernizing Southeast and Gulf ports is most critical to serving the nation's export needs over the coming years.
In February, the Obama administration included $3.5 million toward the project's feasibility study in the president's budget for fiscal year 2013. The 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.
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 or greater, once the project receives authorization from Congress.
With 45 feet of water at mean low tide, Charleston harbor is currently the deepest port in the region, serving ships drawing up to 48 feet of water on the tides. Deepening Charleston harbor would open the port to the biggest vessels 24 hours a day, under any tidal condition. The corps stated in its Reconnaissance Study in 2010 that Charleston is likely "the cheapest South Atlantic harbor to deepen to 50 feet."