More than a year ago, the White House included Charleston Harbor on a list of “We Can’t Wait” dredging projects. President Barack Obama has since re-confirmed his support for deepening our harbor to help accommodate the increased size of cargo ships due to the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal.
But it was still reassuring to hear Vice President Joe Biden, in a Monday speech at the Columbus Street Terminal, re-confirm the administration’s commitment to deepening Charleston Harbor.
As the vice president put it: “We’ve got to find the resources for it because it pays multiple dividends for the economy, the people of South Carolina and the country.”
Mr. Biden, who was accompanied by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, also visited the Wando Terminal in Mount Pleasant. They went later Monday to Savannah, where the vice president again stressed the need to deepen East Coast ports.
But this is one special dividend of dredging here: Charleston Harbor is already 45 feet deep. So taking it down to 50 feet wouldn’t be as costly as it would be to take shallower harbors to that required depth.
Global commerce will proceed. If Charleston Harbor isn’t deep enough to handle those bigger ships, we — as in not just our community and state but our nation — will needlessly lose economic ground.
State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, and some other local Republicans criticized the vice president for not being specific enough about federal funding for the harbor dredging.
However, State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome correctly called Mr. Biden’s visit “another step further for the project, and we are glad to have him here.”
And Gov. Nikki Haley said, “What you saw today is the vice president put his money where his mouth is.”
The Obama administration’s support of Charleston Harbor’s deepening since the middle of last year has been a welcome change. For most of the president’s first term, funding for that fully justified project had been conspicuously absent from his executive budget proposals.
Most analysts blamed politics. After all, the Obama-Biden ticket lost this solidly “red” (Republican) state by nine percentage points in 2008. It lost South Carolina again in 2012 by an even wider margin — more than 10 points.
Yet federal funding for infrastructure projects that benefit the entire country shouldn’t be based on party affiliations.
And the Obama administration deserves credit for recognizing that the deepening of Charleston Harbor wouldn’t just be good for Charleston and South Carolina.
It would be good for America.