CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Port of Charleston is one of the economic engines of South Carolina, but to keep the harbor open and the depth where it is right now, the silt has to be dredged away.
The South Carolina Ports Authority signed a 20-year agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to do just that on Monday.
The agreement between the groups will help split the cost of dredging to keep the port running.
"The dredge, on a rotation, I'd say there's always a dredge in the harbor somewhere," said ports authority CEO Jim Newsome.
Newsome says keeping the harbor dredged is crucial to keep the port in the game.
"We'd lose business because ships need the harbor depth we have today," Newsome said.
The SC Ports Authority says it can't keep the current port's depth without help, which is why the agreement was signed.
"These harbors have always been silting harbors," Newsome said. "We've always had an ongoing relationship with the corps to maintain."
Now, that relationship is extended by 20 years after Monday's agreement was signed with the Army Corps of Engineers to split the cost of dredging and then to deposit that silt in Clouter Creek.
"Clouter Creek is the disposal site right under the 526 bridge and across from the paper mill," Newsome said. "The silt deposited here is dredged from the north part of the harbor."
According to Lt. Col Jason Kirk, more than 1.2 million cubic yards is dredged per year.
"If you were to think in terms of football fields stacked 20 stories high, that's the volume of material dredged every year," Kirk said.
It will cost around $15 million to keep the harbor dredged.
"We signed this agreement that enables them to raise the dikes on the Clouter Creek disposal area, which enables them to maintain our harbor to 45 feet," Kirk said.
The corps will pay 65 percent and the ports authority will pay 35 percent of the cost for dredging.
"It's a wall basically like building a bigger bathtub," Kirk said.
The dredging and dumping addressed in the agreement will start next week, keeping waterways open and business coming in.
The ports authority is still working toward getting the harbor deepened to be able to bring larger ships into our port.