Charleston Harbor Deepening Work to Kickoff With $17.5 Million in USACE Funding

The MV COSCO Development, the biggest ship to ever visit the U.S. east coast, sails into Charleston Harbor, Saturday, May 13, 2017. Photo: SCPA

South Carolina Ports’ project to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet has received the funding needed to begin construction as planned this fall, the port authority said Thursday.

In the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Fiscal Year 17 Work Plan released today, the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project was named one of six “new starts” and allocated $17.5 million in construction funding. Charleston also received $16.1 million in operations and maintenance dollars, which provide for the routine maintenance dredging of the harbor necessary for construction begin. 

The USACE work plan also allocated $17.5 million to the port of Jacksonville for the start of a similar harbor-deepening project. 

For Charleston, the largest contract under the project will be kicking off this fall, utilizing federal dollars in combination with the $300 million in state funding already set aside for the project.

The funding and start of construction come as ports up and down the U.S. east coast are experiencing record container and cargo volumes with the opening of the Panama Canal Expansion. Earlier this month, the port of Charleston welcomed the MV COSCO Development, the largest containership to ever visit the U.S. east coast.

By deepening the harbor to 52 feet from its current depth of 45 feet, the SCPA will be able to accommodate fully-loaded new-Panamax containerships without tidal restriction.

“The significance of this funding for the timeline of our deepening project cannot be overstated – it is tremendous news for Charleston,” said Jim Newsome, SCPA president and CEO. “By the end of the decade, we will achieve 52 feet of depth and be the deepest harbor on the East Coast, a depth advantage that will add significant capability in the Southeast, the fastest growing port region in the country. We are grateful for the leadership of our congressional and state delegations and look forward to a continued, productive partnership with the USACE as the project progresses.”

The significance of the project is also evident by its rapid movement through the USACE SMART planning process. Just six years ago, in May 2011, the project reached its first milestone with a $150,000 allocation in the USACE Work Plan to study the need and justification to deepen Charleston Harbor beyond its current depth.

The project has also received strong support from all levels of government. In 2012 the S.C. General Assembly set aside $300 million for the project, and it was expedited by the previous Administration as a “We Can’t Wait” initiative.

In 2015, the SCPA handled international commerce valued at more than $74 billion while receiving no direct taxpayer subsidy. Meanwhile, port operations contribute 187,200 statewide jobs and generate nearly $53 billion annual economic activity.

“South Carolina, the Southeastern region and our nation will enjoy the positive impacts of the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project for years to come. Today’s news is the result of years of hard work and dedication to ensure SCPA will remain a competitive, growing port well into the future,” said Senator Hugh Leatherman, S.C. Senate President Pro Tempore.

Jacksonville Harbor-Deepening

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work plan allocated $17.5 million for the deepening of the Jacksonville harbor, the first federal dollars committed to the project’s construction. The funding is designated for the initial phase of the project to deepen the federal shipping channel to 47 feet. The additional depth is required to accommodate more cargo aboard today’s larger ships calling on JAXPORT from Asia through both the Panama and Suez canals.