The president's proposed spending plan for 2015 includes $695,000 tied to the deepening of Charleston Harbor, enough to complete a critical study that's already underway, it was announced Thursday.
"We're very happy with this," said Glenn Jeffries, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers office in Charleston. "It lets us complete our work."
South Carolina leaders want to deepen the state's primary shipping channel to at least 50 feet from 45 by the end of the decade so it can handle larger container ships.
The Army Corps is making progress on a feasibility study it needs to complete as part of the permitting process, said Lt. Col. John Litz, commander of the agency's local office.
"We are continuing to prepare our draft environmental impact statement and draft report to release this summer," Litz said in statement Wednesday. "This money will allow us to remain on track to complete our final study recommendation for Charleston Harbor by September 2015."
Obama's budget also would set aside another $19 million for local maintenance dredging and $1.5 million for surveying and environmental work. In addition, it includes $1.6 million for improvements to the dredge disposal site along Clouter Creek, near Daniel Island, Jeffries said. None of those projects is directly connected to the harbor deepening, she added.
Like other East Coast ports, Charleston is rushing to deepen its harbor so it can accommodate the longer, heavier cargo ships expected to arrive on a regular basis after a major expansion of the Panama Canal is completed as early as next year.
The president's budget proposal once again excluded funds to dredge another South Carolina commercial waterway: the increasingly shallow Port of Georgetown.
The lack of dredging at the State Ports Authority's small breakbulk facility 70 miles up the coast from Charleston has been a growing concern because the channel has been gradually filling for more than a decade.
The port fell under the 1 million ton threshold around 2003, meaning it isn't eligible to receive federal maintenance dredging dollars from the budget.
"We lost our tonnage to qualify for the annual maintenance dredging," Mayor Jack Scoville said Wednesday.
That's made what some officials have called a "Catch-22" situation - the channel can't get dredged until it reaches the 1 million mark, but it can't handle the heavy ships it needs to get to that level until it's dredged.
The cost of the project has been estimated at $30 million.
Scoville said officials will have to "find other sources to get it done." They hope to tap into a federal maintenance dredging program for smaller ports.
In Georgia, meanwhile, officials sounded both stunned and defiant after the budget failed to recommend money to start the $652 million deepening of Savannah's busy shipping channel.
The budget calls for just $1.52 million for the waterway to be designated for preconstruction engineering and design services. The White House said the deepening was among many projects being held up because Congress hasn't finalized a water-projects bill containing provisions needed to move them forward.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said this week he would start the project with state money. The White House said Tuesday he could not do that until Congress passes the stalled water-projects bill.
The ports of Savannah and Charleston are major rivals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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