Posted on September 19, 2016
By Vera Bergengruen, McClatchyDC
The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 95-3 to approve a bipartisan water projects bill that will be critical to ensure that Charleston’s harbor deepening project remains on track.
South Carolina Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott have pushed for the $509 million harbor dredging project to move forward, backed by Gov. Nikki Haley.
“This is good news for our state,” Haley said after the vote, urging House Speaker Paul Ryan and the House of Representatives to adopt the plan before the recess. “The success of this project is vital to South Carolina building on the record-breaking economic development momentum we’ve seen over the last five years.”
One in 11 jobs in the state are supported by the Port of Charleston according to a study by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.
“At the end of the day harbor deepening is really about jobs – today and in the future,” Graham said in a statement. “The Port is South Carolina’s most vital economic engine and why harbor deepening has been a top priority for me.”
He also tweeted a photo giving a thumbs-up with South Carolina Ports Authority president Jim Newsome.
The SCPA called Thursday’s vote a “significant milestone” to move the project forward.
“Our entire delegation recognizes the importance of this bill as the final hurdle for Charleston Harbor Deepening,” said Pat McKinney, chairman of the SCPA board. “We applaud their continued dedication and focus on economic growth in South Carolina by helping our port system remain competitive.”
In a rare joint statement, South Carolina’s six Republicans and the single Democrat in the House, Rep. Jim Clyburn, said they would work with congressional leaders to “optimize debate time on the floor and look forward to the passage of a WRDA bill this Congress.”
If passed, the measure would move forward the deepening of the harbor to 52 feet by 2020, making it the deepest port on the East Coast.
Deepening the harbor would allow the Port of Charleston to accept significantly larger vessels, so-called post-Panamax ships which currently can only dock there if the tides cooperate. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, post-Panamax vessels will account for 60 percent of the world’s container shipping by 2030.
WRDA is critical legislation for port and port-related infrastructure modernization projects across the country, and we are grateful to Senators Graham and Scott for their unwavering support of its passage. Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority
“The Port of Charleston is vital to our state’s economic future, and I was happy to work with Senator Graham to ensure our port will continue to grow and create jobs,” Scott said in a statement Thursday.
The measure includes $100 million in loans and grants to replace pipes that have been contaminated with lead in Flint, Michigan and other cities with lead problems. It also includes $50 million to conduct lead testing for water in schools.
Now the legislation will go on to the U.S. House, where a similar bill is expected as soon as next week, but without the Flint provision.
The Water Resources Development Act would authorize 29 projects in 18 states for flood control, dredging, and other related projects managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It includes a provision added by Scott to make improvements to the Lake Marion Regional Water Authority in South Carolina.
The legislation also speeds up reimbursements to local governments in Colorado for expenses after the toxic-waste spill at the Gold King Mine last year, and continues improvement projects in Lake Tahoe.