South Carolina’s 7th District Congressman Tom Rice is celebrating his first major success on Capitol Hill.
The freshman congressman took a leadership role in the House and on a bicameral conference committee to help pass the federal Water Resources Reform and Development Act. The bill, which cleared the Senate Thursday and awaits the president’s signature, directly affects the Charleston and Georgetown ports.
The $12.3 billion measure to improve America’s waterways and ports took almost a year to complete. It will still be up to Congress to approve the spending on each project.
Congressman Rice says he worked on language to help all ports cut through bureaucracy after they get an environmental permit:
“Once they get their permit, that can proceed with their own money to deepen the port and then come back the next time a water resources bill is done and then ask the federal government for reimbursement. They don’t have to do that, but they can choose to do that,” Rice told South Carolina Radio Network.
The South Carolina legislature has set aside $300 million to pay for the Port of Charleston harbor deepening, which includes additional money that could cover the federal share of the cost.
Rice said he expects Charleston to have its environmental permits completed next year.
“Then the state of South Carolina will be able to proceed at that point without federal authorization to deepen the Charleston port. With respect to the Georgetown port, this bill will allow Georgetown– and I certainly plan to assist them in this — to proceed to the Army Corps of Engineers and make our case for the viability of the deepening of that port, ” he added.
The bill allows Georgetown, designated an “Emerging Port,” (less than one million tons a year) to get assistance in dredging and maintenance through the year 2022.
In their summary of the bipartisan bill, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., cosigned a statement, saying “These projects, which have undergone congressional scrutiny and have completed reports of the Chief of Engineers, will strengthen our nation’s infrastructure to protect lives and property, restore vital ecosystems to preserve our natural heritage, and maintain navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods to keep us competitive in the global marketplace.”
The last water resources bill like this passed in 2007. Rice is confident this version will be signed into law soon and that it will bring more jobs into South Carolina. He is concerned that the U.S has fallen behind in ports progress because of waiting for the federal government — and Congress — in the meantime.
“If you consider the fact that it has taken 16 years to get approvals to deepen Port Everglades (Fla.), I wonder how many ports China’s deepened since then? And how many American jobs have moved over there?