The first thing that Democrats and Republicans in Washington have readily agreed upon in a long time could be very good news for South Carolina.
By a remarkable 417-3 margin, the House of Representatives Wednesday approved a bipartisan water bill that would expedite the deepening of Charleston Harbor’s shipping channel to 50 feet.
The achievement calls for two celebrations: South Carolina’s faster, more efficient path toward accommodating the world’s largest cargo ships; and harmony in the House that citizens have been hankering for. The state’s congressional delegation is to be commended for its unanimity of support for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.
The bill, which does not include earmarks (another aspect worth applauding), would reduce delays and costs associated with major Army Corps of Engineer flood control and navigation projects.
While Charleston’s deepening project is not on the long list of projects ($8.2 billion worth) approved in the bill, the House measure would allow projects like this one to begin construction as soon as it gets the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval (due in September 2015).
It also limits Corps studies to three years and $3 million. Critics say lengthy reviews delay projects and cost taxpayers more.
At present, the SPA would have to wait for the Corps’ report, however long it might take, and then wait longer for federal authorization and funding. The bill allows for projects to begin with local or state money and request federal reimbursement later.
That would enable the Charleston Harbor deepening to proceed expeditiously, since the S.C. Legislature last year wisely set aside $300 million to apply to the dredging project in case federal funds were not immediately forthcoming.
The bill also would be a significant boon to the port of Georgetown, which has been in limbo for needed improvements. When the steel mill there closed temporarily, the port didn’t process enough tonnage to warrant federal funds, so it silted in.
A provision promoted by 7th District Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., sets aside money for projects in small ports like Georgetown.
The Senate passed its own bill in May by a vote of 83-14. It also would reduce delays, but its list of projects is different from that in the House bill. Their differences will be reconciled in a conference committee.
Both the Senate and House versions are being touted, correctly, as job creators — not just because they will involve construction work, but because jobs across the nation depend on the efficient transport of goods on the nation’s waterways.
If there is a concern, it is that streamlining the process could mean overlooking threats to the environment. The final bill should give due consideration to protecting valuable natural resources.
Passage of the House bill is a reason to be optimistic that essential port projects finally will get the federal support they require without undue delay.