Ensuring that Charleston Harbor is deepened to accommodate larger vessels is a high priority for South Carolina’s newest member of Congress, the recently elected federal lawmaker said Monday after being briefed on the issue.
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford met with State Ports Authority officials privately in Charleston, just days after being sworn in to fill the vacant 1st Congressional District seat.
The hour-long meeting, which was closed to media, was described as an informational session about the state’s port operations. Sanford, a Republican, said one of the topics was the proposed deepening of Charleston’s shipping channel from to 50 feet from 45.
“From a mechanics standpoint, I wanted to see where things stood,” the former South Carolina governor said after the briefing.
The fate of the harbor deepening is in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is studying the feasibility of such as project and is scheduled to make its recommendation to Congress in 2015. Several ports along the East and Gulf coasts are competing for federal dollars to deepen their shipping channels to accommodate larger, heavier ships that will be able to travel through the Panama Canal once it is expanded in about two years.
Sanford’s meeting comes just days after the U.S. Senate approved extending a water-resources law, which calls for investments in port improvements and flood protection. The bill is now making its way through the House of Representatives.
The Water Resources Development Act funds more than 20 Army Corps projects, including several port-improvement projects tied to the widening of the Panama Canal. The bill also ensures more money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which is financed by user fees, goes toward harbor improvements rather than other federal projects unrelated to ports.
Sanford is the latest in a line of elected officials who have touted the importance of dredging the harbor. That list includes President Barack Obama, who on Friday spoke about the need to speed up the approval of infrastructure projects. He specifically cited Charleston Harbor.
Last summer, the Obama administration included Charleston as part of its “We Can’t Wait” initiative to help speed up dredging projects.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, toured the Port of Charleston and spoke about the need to change policy for funding port-deepening projects.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.