The South Carolina Legislature allocated $300 million to fund the deepening Charleston’s harbor in the amended state budget announced Thursday. The allocation would cover the entire estimated cost to deepen the harbor to 50 feet, once the project receives authorization from Congress.
The budget was announced by a conference committee comprising leaders from both legislative houses, which increased the cash contribution in the Harbor Deepening Reserve Fund to $300 million from $180 million previously approved by both the House of Representatives and Senate.
Following the completion of the project’s feasibility study and authorization by Congress, the Harbor Deepening Reserve Fund would be used to pay for the actual construction of the deepening project, which is estimated at $300 million.
The cost-sharing structure for dredging the harbor deeper than the present 45 feet at mean low water is 60 percent funded by the state, or $180 million. The additional $120 million in the fund would cover the federal share of the project’s construction if federal funding is not available.
The funds also could be used to keep the project moving forward, thereby losing no time due to funding constraints. Expenditures from the fund would require approval by the Joint Bond Review Committee, composed of both House and Senate members.
“This level of commitment instills a great deal of confidence in our customers and shows that the Port of Charleston is ready and able to meet their long-term growth needs,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the SCPA. “We have a good partner in the Corps of Engineers, and we will continue our productive collaboration to deliver a true post-Panamax harbor in the South Atlantic as quickly as possible.”
Newsome hopes to speed up the drawn-out process of getting approval for the project. The Army Corps, which is beginning the feasibility study, said in December that the approval process couldn’t be completed before 2024. “We think 2024 is too late for Charleston,” Newsome said. “We obviously need them to move faster.”
Charleston’s Harbor Deepening Project has built considerable momentum since the project’s feasibility study began last summer. Earlier this year, $3.5 million toward the project’s feasibility study was included in President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2013. That allocation, along with the funds already included in the Corps’ Work Plan, means that the federal share of the feasibility study is more than halfway funded.
The project would open the port, already the deepest harbor in the region, to the biggest vessels 24 hours a day, under any tidal conditions. The Corps stated in its Reconnaissance Study in 2010 that Charleston is likely “the cheapest South Atlantic harbor to deepen to 50 feet.”