Deepening the channel into the Port of Charleston’s harbor to 50 feet is unlikely to be finished before 2024, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said this week.
"That's just too long," South Carolina State Ports Authority President Jim Newsome told the Charleston Post & Courier.
The Charleston shipping channel has a federally authorized depth of 45 feet, and the proposed deepening could take it to 50 feet. Charleston wants a deeper channel so it can handle the larger ships that will be able to pass through the expanded Panama Canal in late 2014.
The U.S. government has not decided whether to deepen the port, which can’t happen without federal approval and funding. Such a decision would come after a study that is just beginning and could take five to eight years to complete.
"We are at the very beginning of the feasibility study process, and we do not know what project, if any, we will recommend to Congress," Lt. Col. Ed Chamberlayne, commander and chief engineer of the Corps' Charleston District, told the crowd at a public meeting Tuesday night.
The Corps has put together a team of more than 20 people and will try to complete the work on the short end of his timeline, Chamberlayne said.
The rival port of Savannah has been working on a project to deepen the Savannah River to 48 feet for 15 years and it still does not have a permit, even though South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control reversed its earlier decision to block the permit.
Even the feasibility study faces roadblocks, including the need for federal funding. "We have not lost any time, up to now, but we need to get funded and need to get in the president's budget for 2013," Newsome said.
For now, the estimated $300 million project has enough funding for about two years of the study phase. Several million dollars in federal funding are needed in the coming federal budget to assure continuation of the study beyond that, with the port authority and the state and federal governments sharing in the costs of the deepening plan.