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American Shipper

Port CEO: Charleston could qualify for 52-foot channel

Army Corps of Engineers is expected to make initial recommendation on Charleston deepening.

   The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled soon to release its draft feasibility study for deepening the Port of Charleston harbor beyond 45 feet. Years of planning by the state of South Carolina and the Army Corps have centered on making the navigation channel five feet deeper.
   But Jim Newsome, the chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority, told reporters covering his annual state-of-the-port address in North Charleston last month that he believes the project will be approved for 52 feet.
   “We believe the 52-foot option is the best option,” he added.
   The draft report will assess the national economic benefit from dredging to various depths, as well as any environmental costs and whether they can be reasonably mitigated.
   The Army Corps will accept public comments on the project for 45 days and then spend several months reviewing all the data. In September, the chief of engineers is tentatively expected to make a final recommendation to Congress on whether to proceed.
   The recent Water Resources Reform and Development Act included a provision allowing local sponsors that receive a favorable Chief’s Report to proceed without further authorization if they finance construction themselves.
   The South Carolina legislature has set aside $300 million for the project to cover the federal share of the project rather than wait for piecemeal congressional authorization and appropriations. Construction could be begin immediately if the Army Corps officially clears the project. Newsome said the deepening could be completed in 2019 under such a scenario.
   State officials consider the deepening critical to economic development and increasing the port’s competitiveness in an era of bigger container vessels.
   Newsome said a 52-foot channel would be more expensive than the original budget.

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