CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - State Ports Authority officials say Charleston could end up losing out on a lot of business in the future if the harbor is not deepened.
They recently visited the Panama Canal and say an expansion project there will impact Charleston. Ports authority officials, state lawmakers, and Charleston business leaders saw the expansion site, which is set to be complete by 2014.
It means bigger container ships will be able to pass through and change cargo shipping globally.
"Ships today with a maximum size of 5,000 TEUs can go through the canal. In the future that will be 13,000," TEUs. It's probably the biggest game changer in the history of containerization," said SCSPA President Jim Newsome.
Newsome says if South Carolina wants business from companies with the larger container ships, then the Army Corps of Engineers needs to start a Charleston Harbor deepening project soon. Before the harbor is dredged the state must secure money from the federal government to do an impact study.
Port officials say to handle the bigger ships the channel needs to be at least five feet deeper.
Chamber of commerce leader Mary Graham says the port is an important economic engine for Charleston and the region.
"When the economy here has thrived, it's because our port has been thriving and growing. We feel like the widening of the Panama Canal gives the opportunity for our port to attract some of that business," Graham said.
Port officials and business leaders say they will continue to inform the public of the importance of deepening the channel, so business development in Charleston can move full steam ahead.
Right now a majority of larger ships are shipping freight through West coast ports. Charleston can handle larger ships when the tide is right. Currently the Charleston Harbor is dredged to 45 feet, but port officials would like it to be at a 50-foot depth.
It is estimated a dredging project would take ten years.