Trying to speed up a study needed before the deepening of the Charleston Harbor can begin, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) met last week with local harbor pilots to determine part of the study’s focus.
The harbor pilots were brought in because they know the river channels as well as anyone else, according to ACE’s Charleston District commander Col. Edward Chamberlayne.
“Instead of going through a list of hundreds of alternatives to consider, which would make our feasibility study longer, they would really narrow it down to the most productive and most feasible alternatives,” he said. “It would make the most bang for our buck.”
The Corps has partnered with the State Ports Authority to help pay the estimated $20 million the feasibility study will cost. Port officials say the channel needs to be deepened to 50 feet in order to handle the new, larger ships that will begin arriving along the East Coast once the Panama Canal expansion is complete in 2014. The overall project is expected to cost around $300 million.
The study is currently in a public comment period that ends February 10. Once that passes, the Corps will take the recommendations and begin developing possible alternatives.
The entire study is expected to take about five to eight years. Chamberlayne said the agency would do everything within its power to speed up the process. “I don’t want someone to think that we’re going as fast as possible and ignore a lot of concerns,” he said “That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to streamline what we’re doing and cut out wasted time.”
Several prominent South Carolina officials, including Governor Nikki Haley, have said they want the amount of time shortened. Chamberlayne said the amount of time was due to federal laws the Corps has to follow, not intra-agency bureaucracy.
He said the Corps does not usually get the harbor pilots involved in the process this early, instead consulting them about final recommendations towards the end. “By then, it’s too late. They’re giving us their input, but we’ve already gone through the process.”
Other proposed ways to shorten the process include concurrent reviews and trying to determine every possible recommendation in advance, to prevent a second study if a different alternative emerges in the future.