Haley, Graham talk state of the port; Ports CEO gets raise, extension

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A raise and new seven-year contract is on its way to the president and CEO of the State Ports Authority, Jim Newsome. He has headed up the agency for about two years. Newsome was awarded a $50,000 and a contract extension Tuesday.

After the raise, his annual income will be $350,000. His contract was not set to expire until next September. One in five jobs in South Carolina is tied to the ports.

Those jobs could be affected if the state doesn't get funding to continue a harbor deepening study according to state lawmakers.

Charleston and Savannah ports are fighting for federal funds that would allow them to deepen their harbors to accommodate super-sized ships expected after the Panama Canal expansion in 2014.

South Carolina officials weighed in on the issue Tuesday night at the State of the Ports address. Sen. Lindsey graham says the port is our gateway to the world, but as of now, the fight for federal funds to continue the study of deepening the harbor is keeping that gateway limited in the future.

At the State of the Ports address Gov. Nikki Haley said she will fight until the Charleston Harbor is 50 feet deep.

"We're gonna win," Haley said. "We're gonna make sure we've got the port deepening. We're gonna make sure we've got the funding and then were gonna be the best port in the country."

On Tuesday, SC's environmental board approved a permit allowing the Georgia Ports Authority to deepen the Savannah River channel to the savannah ports, a channel shared by the Charleston Port. With Savannah being Charleston's biggest port rival, the signing didn't come without a compromise according to Haley.

"I applaud DHEC because they took a situation where Georgia didn't hit the benchmarks, gave them the requirements to hit it, and Georgia gave us 50 years of commitments towards the oxygen, wetlands situations, financially and by hitting accounting measures," Haley said.

Graham is pushing a bill that makes Charleston eligible for more money in the deepening study. Charleston needs over $4 million more. The bill pushes for a merit-based approach to port deepening, something Newsome says Charleston will win.

"We're the only harbor that can be a truly Panama capable harbor," Newsome said. "That's what is required in the long term for big ships."

Right now, Charleston's port deepening project is not included in the president's 2012 budget. Graham says with the provision of the bill he wants passed, Charleston would be eligible to receive funding to finish the deepening study.

Until that study is complete, Charleston can't begin actual construction on the deepening. It will take at least 10 years and $300 million more to get Charleston's port dredged to 50 feet deep.

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