The White House late today pledged that all federal reviews of the Charleston Harbor deepening plan will be completed by September 2015, nine months earlier than the shortened time line announced just a week ago by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Obama administration’s announcement caught local Corps and State Ports Authority officials by surprise, but SPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said any reduction in the time line for deepening the port is good news.
Gov. Nikki Haley called it a huge leap forward for the state.
“This is a huge win for Charleston and for all of South Carolina,” Haley said. “Back in February, I stressed to the president how important deepening Charleston’s port was and how frustrating the Army Corps’ timetable was, and I’m thrilled to see the administration has sped up our project.”
Port executives and elected officials had been asking the White House to take action, after the Corps initially said it might take eight years just to study the proposed deepening work.
The new study deadline, combined with project-shortening measures announced last week by the Corps, means the harbor could potentially be deepened by 2019, five years earlier than once estimated.
Charleston is pursuing the plan to dredge the harbor to 50 feet or more in order to accommodate larger container ships, which will be able to reach Southeast ports via the Panama Canal starting in 2015, after the canal is widened and deepened. Other U.S. ports are rushing to deepen waterways and raise bridges, and the Obama administration has ordered projects in Charleston and four other ports to be expedited.
The move is part of an initiative to prioritize and speed up national infrastructure projects, which Obama directed with an executive order in March.
Charleston’s nearest rival, the Port of Savannah, is on the president’s list of initial projects, as are Jacksonville, Miami and the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Read more in Thursday’s editions of The Post and Courier.