Port study to determine economic, environmental impacts

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The money for a harbor deepening study has been secured and the State Ports Authority says it will match the federal funding to get the project started.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the SPA are expected to sign a cost-sharing agreement to by early next month, for a total of $300,000 to get the project started.

The Army Corps Charleston District says the "Charleston Harbor Post 45 Study" will determine how deep the harbor can be dredged, the environmental impact, and the economic impact of a deeper harbor.

"We'll be undergoing a whole bunch of technical analysis, geo technical surveys. It will have biochemistry testing of the sediment in the harbor," Army Corps Charleston District Lt. Col. Jason Kirk said.

Project managers say the Ports Authority and even the Charleston Harbor Pilots will take part in the Army Corp's effort, as a deeper harbor means navigational changes.

"We'll do simulations with the harbor pilots of what a modified harbor will look like so it is optimally designed for safety and for transit of these larger vessels," Lt. Col. Kirk said.

The SPA says it would like to see the currently 45-foot deep harbor dredged to at least 50 feet in order to easily allow the large post-pantamax ships into the Charleston port. Project managers say the $300,000 they have to spend now, will only start the multi-year, estimated $18-20 million project.

Eventually they will ask the public to weigh in.

"They're going to want to understand, are the terminals changing, is this just the harbor geometry changing, what is it going to mean for vessel traffic, and if they are ship side, how many ships would now be calling, what are the time frames because noise is a factor," Lt. Col. Kirk said.

The study could take anywhere from five to eight years to determine whether or not Charleston harbor can be deepened. After the feasibility phase is done, they'll then move on to an engineering or design phase, and that could cost up to $75 million.

"We've got a great Army Corps of Engineers district. We've got to organize and do a great project that proves that this indeed is the meritorious project that we said it is," SPA President Jim Newsome said.

Port proponents say despite getting the money to start the study, for fiscal year 2012, they'll need another $ 1.2 million of federal cash with a state ports match to continue the project.

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