Charleston port gets some federal funding

Sen. Lindsey Graham

The federal spending plan approved by the U.S. House today includes some money for the Port of Charleston, under a provision proposed earlier in the Senate by S.C. Republican Lindsey Graham.

The $4.2 million for Charleston's harbor deepening study will help ensure no time is lost on the lengthy process. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it could take 5 years and about $20 million to study the plan and decide if it’s feasible and in the national interest.

The study began in June and had already been advance-funded by the State Ports Authority for about the first two years. The availability of the $4.2 million in federal funds preserves the SPA's ability to step in with advance funding again, should federal funds be unavailable further along in the study period.

Looking ahead, Charleston would need more than $300 million to deepen the harbor to accommodate larger container ships. Savannah is seeking more than twice that amount, and other ports are pursuing deepening projects as well.

A provision Graham included in the spending bill requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate ports with the goal of developing a national plan to deal with larger container ships. Such ships will become more common on the East Coast when an expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014.

"What I’m trying to do is create a merit-based vision," Graham said Friday afternoon. "We’ve got issues to overcome, but this is a breakthrough."