COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - South Carolina senators approved a proposal Wednesday to borrow up to $550 million to expand the port in Charleston.
The funding would provide more railroads and a barge that could carry cargo from one terminal to another.
The senate OKed the bill 45-1 on Wednesday, but that final vote hides plenty of disagreement. Some senators reluctantly voted knowing the House is almost certain to alter the proposal and they will get a second chance to reject it later this year.
They want the State Ports Authority to answer more questions and be more accountable.
House leaders say they agree the port needs money, but aren’t sure if they should borrow it.
The approval comes as work continues on the new Hugh Leatherman Port in North Charleston. Earlier this month, the final large cranes arrived as part of the first phase to greatly expand the port’s capacity, allowing the terminal to open by the end of March.
The final six rubber-tired gantry cranes, or RTGs, arrived from China on Feb. 13. The critical equipment will allow the terminal to handle up to 700,000 20-foot containers. When the Leatherman terminal opens, larger ships will use that facility since it will have the largest cranes.
The South Carolina Ports Authority says when the project is completed this year, Charleston Harbor will be the deepest harbor on the East Coast — up from the current 45-foot depth. Plans call for the entrance channel to be deepened to 54 feet, up from 47 feet.
The additional seven feet of depth in Charleston Harbor will enable post-Panamax vessels to call on the Port of Charleston any time, any tide, SCPA’s website states.
“The 52-foot depth will ensure SC Ports can handle the growing number of large, cargo-laden vessels calling on Charleston,” the site states. “This significant infrastructure development will greatly increase Charleston Harbor’s capabilities and SC Ports’ competitiveness in the era of big ships, further connecting South Carolina to global markets.”
Charleston Harbor has been a key economic driver for more than 300 years, port officials say.