Obama plugs deepening Charleston Harbor on Jay Leno

CHARLESTON, SC (AP/WCSC) - President Barack Obama used his televised interview with Jay Leno to slip in a plug for Charleston and two other Southeastern cities seeking federal funds to deepen waterways cargo ships navigate to reach their ports.

Appearing Tuesday on NBC's "The Tonight Show," the president told Leno that U.S. ports on the East and Gulf coasts need deeper harbors to stay competitive as the Panama Canal finishes a major expansion in 2015 that will give supersized cargo ships a shortcut between the U.S. and Asia.

"For the last three years I've said, 'Let's work together to find a financing mechanism and fix our bridges, fix our roads, our sewer systems, our ports.'  The Panama Canal is being widened so these Super Tankers can come in," Obama told Leno Tuesday night."That will be finished in 2015.  If we don't deepen our ports all along the gulf in places like Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida... If we don't do that, those ships are going to go someplace else.  We'll lose jobs.  Businesses won't locate here."

Deepening Charleston Harbor from 45 to 50 feet is estimated to cost $300 million. The project is still in the study phase and has been since 2011 as environmentalists, biologists, and economists weigh in on the impact of deepening, which will allow larger ships to come through.

If Congress ultimately approves the deepening after the study is completed, officials say between design and construction, the process will take five to six years. The last time the harbor was deepened, from 40 to 45 feet, was between 2004 and 2006.

Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, says the ports in all three states risk losing access to growing export markets overseas if they can't accommodate larger ships.

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