October 24, 2014

First public meeting on Charleston deepening is Tuesday

Tuesday will be the first chance for the public to weigh in on the proposed Charleston harbor deepening project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) will host a public scoping meeting at Mark Clark Hall at the Citadel from 5:30-8:00.

The Port of Charleston has requested the study as it prepares for bigger ships that will begin arriving on the East Coast once the Panama Canal is widened in 2014. “Right now, these larger ships have begun to call on Charleston harbor, but they can only come at high tide or not fully loaded,” ACE Charleston District spokesman Sean McBride said.

The Corps of Engineers has to study if the engineering, economic and environmental cost of the dredging will be worth it. Such a study normally takes 5-8 years to complete, but Corps officials say they are streamlining the review and approval process as much as possible to save time.

The feasibility study is also not fully funded as Congress has not yet aside the money. Under an  agreement announced earlier this year, the South Carolina Ports Authority is paying for 50 percent of the study’s costs, but it says it cannot pay the estimated $20 million the entire project requires.

The ACE will be studying several alternative depths for the harbor’s current federally-authorized 45 feet. McBride said the study will focus on three areas: economic, engineering, and environmental.

The engineering feasibility takes into account if the project can be built, what must be done to make it safe and what the cost will be. The economic studies will look at cost/benefit analysis and the economic benefit to the nation.

Environmental issues will include: air, surface/ground water and sediment quality, fish habitats and endangered species, shoreline changes, and cultural and historical resources.

Each area will be represented by a station in the auditorium during Tuesday’s meeting. The Ports Authority will have its own display table. Charleston District commander, Lt. Col. Edward Chamberlayne will also make a presentation starting at 6:45 pm. Members of the public can provide comments by written or electronic means. They can also speak to a court reporter.

“Public input is essential to our process in order to help us look at everything we possibly need to look at while completing the study,” he said.

Completion of the study does not guarantee the harbor will be dredged.