Congratulations to Congressmen Mark Sanford, Joe Wilson, Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney, Jim Clyburn and Tom Rice for unanimously voting in favor of H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). Long overdue, a new WRRDA bill will reform and authorize U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works programs and policies related to navigation, flood risk management, recreation, infrastructure and environmental stewardship.
This legislation is an important step toward providing critical economic benefits to the nation, its people and businesses.
In South Carolina, our ports generate powerful impacts that reach inland to touch every county and region. Our ports deliver $45 billion in annual economic impact statewide, almost $12 billion in paid salaries and wages, and account for 1 in 11 jobs, or more than 260,000 direct or indirect jobs.
The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is essential to the economic growth and stability of the Charleston area, the state of South Carolina and the nation.
Today, Charleston is one of 17 commercial “Strategic Ports” in the United States and ranks eighth in the United States for cargo value at $63 billion per year. The Port of Charleston serves 20,000 companies in two dozen states who rely on our harbor to access overseas markets.
The shipping industry is undergoing dramatic change, which in turn is affecting the competitive landscape for the nation’s ports.
Ships are getting bigger, and the expansion of the Panama Canal and the increased use of the Suez Canal are requiring individual ports to make significant investments to maintain their competitiveness and ability to service these larger vessels. Unrestricted access for these big ships will attract the world’s leading ocean carriers and inspire new direct investment from companies looking to efficiently serve trade demand and emerging markets.
Studies to date have demonstrated that Charleston is the most capable harbor in the Southeast to achieve a 50-foot channel at the best value for the taxpayers.
The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is estimated to bring $106 million in net benefits annually for a one time approximately $120 million federal investment.
Our South Carolina General Assembly has set aside the total estimated construction cost of $300 million to ensure this deepening project comes to fruition.
The provisions contained in WRRDA allowing non-federal interests to advance these funds to save time and money during the dredging phase demonstrate our federal and state teams work well together to modernize our state’s infrastructure to keep us competitive.
Two other provisions are crucial to protect our South Carolina ports system. Maintenance of our federal channels once they are constructed to post-Panamax depths is critical for the flow of cargo to and from the country. Adjusting the depth to 50 feet from 45 feet to reflect the big ship trend facing our country today requires nothing more from the taxpayer as the money is collected from shippers’ fees and placed in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
Additionally, more of this money should be allocated for small, emerging ports like Georgetown, to allow these facilities to contribute to the economic well-being of the areas they serve.
As South Carolinians blessed with two capable harbors, we must continue to support our U.S. senators and representatives as they pass bills such as WRRDA that create and sustain jobs and support the nation’s economy.
We urge Congress, guided by our South Carolina Delegation, to conference this Water Resources bill quickly so that the president can sign it and the United States, and particularly our state, can prosper.
Bill Stern is chairman, and Jim Newsome is president and CEO, of the South Carolina State Ports Authority.