HICKS COLUMN: Good week for Charleston Harbor is a good week for state
It's been a pretty good week for Charleston Harbor.
The State Ports Authority on Monday announced plans for an inland port in Greer, which means shipping companies will be able to send their containers to the state's interior by rail, increasing our reach.
Then a shipping line pulled out of Savannah to sail into our fair waters. It's not only our first direct line to Australia — it's bragging rights over a rival port.
And on Thursday, Post and Courier reporter David Slade wrote that the Army Corps of Engineers has cut the timetable for dredging the harbor channel. Now it could be finished by 2020 instead of 2024, which will help us accommodate deeper-draft ships calling here.
That keeps Charleston — and the state — competitive in the ports race. Which is huge.
What a lot of people probably don't realize is that all the thanks here go to state lawmakers. Yes, politicians.
You know, it's easy to beat up on the state Legislature — some people can make a career of it. But when they do something right, they really get it right.
Local boys do good
Earlier this year it became apparent that state revenue was running ahead of projections.
It's a nice problem to have, something South Carolina has been unaccustomed to in recent years.
House leadership met to talk about the best use for that money. Rep. Jim Merrill, who is on the ports legislative oversight committee, wondered aloud if it might help our harbor dredging to set aside the state's share of that project, which amounted to $180 million.
Now it didn't hurt that House leadership includes Speaker Bobby Harrell, another local guy. And Berkeley County Sen. Larry Grooms is in charge of the oversight committee. So the idea stuck.
“We thought it was a gesture of how important the port is, how much bearing it has on the state economy,” Merrill says.
Eventually, lawmakers decided they had enough money to set aside the entire $300 million for the dredging. That's important, and it took away any excuse the feds had for dragging their feet on this project.
After all, it's not easy to get cash out of Washington these days, especially since some of the people representing us don't believe in spending any money on anything, Sen. DeMint.
Oddly enough, Gov. Nikki Haley may have provided an invaluable, if unintended, assist here.
Her decision to curry favor with Georgia officials and take their side at the expense of our port and the Savannah River only galvanized support for local industry.
“I think the governor's action helped to impress upon the House how tense the situation is and how fierce the battle is with Georgia,” Merrill says.
So the upshot is that Charleston has made up some lost ground. The Port of Savannah is still ahead in the permitting process for a deeper channel, but Charleston has just about caught up, seeing as how we can pay our own freight.
And amazingly, it's all thanks to politicians.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.