Charleston’s port would be eligible for millions in federal money under language included in a year-end spending bill before Congress. The House passed the legislation Friday, and the Senate is expected to approve the final version, as well.
Senator Lindsey Graham said he pushed to make funding available for any port not included in the president’s budget this year– which Charleston was not.
“This is a big step on a long journey,” Graham told reporters in a conference call, adding the funding– if approved– would only cover the first year of a feasibility study currently being conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE).
The ACE says it needs $4.2 million in funding this year to pay its part of a cost-share agreement signed with the South Carolina State Ports Authority earlier this year. That would come from a $34.7 million account created by the legislation for any harbor project not included in the president’s budget.
The spending bill cleared the House by a 296-121 vote. Of South Carolina’s House members, only Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn voted in favor of the bill. The Republican members of the delegation unanimously opposed the bill, due to the fact that it would likely lead to spending above 2011 levels.
The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a five-year study into deepening the harbor for the larger cargo ships that will begin arriving along the East Coast in the coming years. However, the agency can only spend whatever Congress or the President gives them– and President Obama left the feasibility study off his budget this past year.
In the past, funding would not have been an issue, as a senator or congressman would have simply requested it through an earmark. But earmarks are no longer allowed in House and Senate rules, so now port officials have to hope the funding is either included in the budget or considered a high priority by the Corps (in the absence of a budget).
Georgetown port officials would also be able to seek the federal funds for its own maintenance dredging. Dredging in the Winyah Bay was also not included in the original budget because the Corps of Engineers considered it a “low-use” harbor. However, Georgetown officials say it is only low-use because the undredged channel is too shallow for many cargo ships to navigate.
In all, the legislation creates three pots of money for those ports. Thsoe include a $74 million account for commercial harbor maintenance, $39.5 million for shore protection, $30 million for small harbor maintenance, $74 million for navigation, and $30 million for inland waterways.