Federal budget proposal includes $138 million for SCPA harbor project


South Carolina Ports Authority

Completion of a project to improve the Port of Charleston’s infrastructure became closer to reality when President Trump’s proposed 2020 budget allocated $138 to the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project.

Charleston is currently the deepest harbor on the East Coast, but plans are to make it even deeper — 54 feet — to accommodate larger cargo ships.

“It’s called the Deepening Project, but it is about overall harbor improvement,” Barbara Melvin, chief operating officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), told Palmetto Business Daily in a telephone interview. 

In addition to depth, the harbor also boasts — and wants to improve — its superior width. Efficiency is improved when there is enough room for ships to pass one another freely in and out of the harbor, rather than having to wait in line.


Barbara Melvin   South Carolina Ports Authority

According to a March 13 press release issued by the SCPA, the president’s recommendation means the ports authority is eligible to receive the funds pending Congressional approval of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. Melvin said all of South Carolina’s Congressional delegation, on both sides of the aisle, favor the appropriation.

“The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is a strategic priority for South Carolina, and it will be a driver of economic development across our state and region well into the future,” Jim Newsome, SCPA president and CEO, was quoted in the release. “By 2021, SCPA and the state will have invested more than $2 billion in port infrastructure to support the booming growth of both population and manufacturing in the region. Our deepening project answers the need for a Southeastern port to handle 14,000 to 18,000 20-foot-equivalent container unit (TEU) vessels drafting 50 feet or more without significant depth and other navigation restrictions.”

Harbor infrastructure deepening and expansion began in 2018 with the Army Corps of Engineers awarding two dredging contracts, and the entire renovation is expected to be completed in 2021, making the whole project last only 40 months.

“Any time there is a delay in infrastructure, costs go up,” Melvin said. “Completing infrastructure in a timely manner is good for the nation.”

With its $138 million recommendation, she added, “The administration has made an extremely strong statement” about the importance of the project.

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