CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Dredging in the Charleston Harbor officially kicked off Friday afternoon following a ceremony of pomp and circumstance.
The South Carolina Ports Authority held the celebratory ceremony aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown featuring speeches from Gov. Henry McMaster and Sen. Lindsay Graham.
"[The Port] spells prosperity for the state of South Carolina," McMaster said.
The Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co., LLC has been contracted for the removal of 6 million cubic yards of material from the entrance channel. An earlier contract worth $47 million was awarded on Sept. 7.
Radioing to the Captain of the Great Lakes dredge floating outside of the Yorktown, officials with SCPA initiated the dredging process with a ceremonial flip of a switch inside, complete with drone video showing the kick off.
"We had a great team working on [this project]," said SCPA President/CEO Jim Newsome. "This is the one project that I've seen everyone pull together, and just in the nick of time, so to speak."
The project will lower the more-than-20-mile long Charleston Harbor entrance channel from its current 45 feet to a newly-authorized depth of 52 feet, according to a release from the U.S. Army.
This will allow larger ships to come to the Port of Charleston, and will allow them to pass through the harbor at any time of day or night without having to wait on the tides.
"There are no restrictions," Newsome said. "They make Panama Canal appointments that way. So, it makes the cost of shipping goods through this port the most efficient it can be."
The project hasn't come without challenges though.
Funding for the $529-million project has hit a speed bump, with the state providing $300-million, leaving lawmakers to seek help from the federal government.
"What we're going to do is talk to President Trump," said Senator Lindsey Graham. "[Tell him] that you've come up with an idea to help those states that have money in the game, skin in the game, to do infrastructure projects that will make a big difference. I can't think of a better example of what Trump wants to do than the Port of Charleston."
"We're the only port in the country to have not only one but two inland ports, and to be the deepest on the east coast," McMaster said. "We're just way ahead of the rest of the country."
McMaster added that the state is in a unique situation having put up so much money to begin with, that now because of a new formula, the federal government isn't able to give as much money.
"My number one priority in 2018 is to change the formula so that we get credit for the $300-million the state of South Carolina put into the system," Graham said. "Which means the federal government has a more reliable partner and we get it done faster.
Construction could take between 40 and 76 months, or more than six years, to complete. The timetable will depend on several factors, including funding, weather and mechanical issues.
However, Newsome said he expects the dredging to be completed by August of 2020.
Lawmakers say the Port of Charleston is an economic driver for the state, facilitating 187,200 jobs statewide and generating nearly $53 billion of annual economic activity.