Harbor Deepening Celebration (copy) (copy)

The Terrapin Island is one of the dredges that will be used to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet. A pair of bills in Congress would change a formula the federal government uses to determine how much money goes to such projects. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

A bill making its way through the U.S. Senate could ensure the federal government pays its fair share for Charleston Harbor deepening and other projects that are funded in part by states and other entities.

A provision in the Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 mandates reimbursement of Uncle Sam's share for such projects if a non-federal partner, such as the state of South Carolina, covers those costs in the interim while waiting for Congress to appropriate funds. There is currently no legal requirement for the federal government to pay back its share of the costs in such situations.

South Carolina legislators banked the state's $271 million share of harbor deepening costs years ago, and the federal government is supposed to pay the project's remaining $287 million. But the feds only included $17.5 million in last year's spending plan and the state money is being used to pay for dredging contracts to keep the project on schedule.

"This provision will require federal reimbursement in these circumstances, thereby bolstering the accountability and reliability of federal cost-share agreements," Republican Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham said in a joint statement.

The bill also would update a mathematical formula the Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Management and Budget use to gauge a project's overall public benefit against its cost. Graham says the Charleston Harbor deepening has been shortchanged because South Carolina's financial contribution hasn't been factored into the formula.

"The current benefit-cost analysis is outdated and inconsistent, and does not properly take into account today’s modern construction and planning methods," the senators said.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote.

Separately, a House committee approved the Water Resources Development Act of 2018, which includes a similar measure to update the funding formula. That bill is now before the full House.

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the bill will "have a direct impact on funding for the Port of Charleston deepening project."

Charleston Harbor deepening kicked off in March and will take between 40 and 76 months to finish. Once completed, the Port of Charleston will have the East Coast's deepest waterway at 52 feet, able to accommodate big container ships regardless of tide.

Cargo leaders

Some of the nation's biggest importers and exporters call South Carolina home, according to a report by the Journal of Commerce, a trade publication covering the logistics industry.

German automaker BMW is No. 13 in the U.S. for containerized exports, most of them partially assembled vehicles — called "knocked down" cars —  built in Spartanburg County and then shipped to foreign countries through the Port of Charleston. The report shows BMW shipped 61,600 containers overseas in 2017.

Fort Mill-based paper products manufacturer Domtar is No. 18 with 48,100 containers while Ogo Fibers, with its U.S. headquarters in Summerville, is No. 34 with 35,500 containers.

Other exporters in the top 100 include Greenville tire maker Michelin-North America, No. 63, with 19,900 containers and Hartsville packaging giant Sonoco Products, with 13,100 containers.

Michelin and BMW also make the list of top importers, at Nos. 42 and 44, respectively. Michelin in 2017 imported 41,300 containers of raw materials for it tires while BMW imported 38,200 containers of engines and auto parts for its SUVs.

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Continental Tire of Fort Mill was No. 52, importing 34,600 containers of rubber for tires.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart is the nation's top importer, bringing 874,800 cargo containers of goods into the country for its stores. America Chung Nam — a paper and plastics recycler near Los Angeles — is the biggest exporter, at 284,500 containers.

Hackett Associates projects containerized cargo shipments in the U.S. will increase by 5.3 percent this year to 24.7 million cargo containers measured in 20-foot increments, also known as TEUs, the journal reported. Among the threats to cargo growth: potential U.S. tariffs on imported goods and higher trucking costs.

Steel town

Liberty Steel USA is getting closer to reopening the Georgetown steel plant with the hiring of general manager Revansidha "Rohit" Gulve for the wire rod facility that's been shuttered since August 2015.

Gulve previously was in charge of the Gerdau Steel plant in Beaumont, Texas. More than 100 workers have been hired at the Georgetown site to get the melt shop, casters and rolling facilities ready for recommissioning.

"I am very positive that the wire market is strong and that every ton of quality steel we produce will be sold quickly," Gulve said. "The steel mill has been ingrained in the Georgetown community for a long time, and the restart will bring very welcome employment and revenue to the city."

Liberty, which is based in the United Kingdom, acquired the Georgetown facility from ArcelorMittal in December as part of its plan to bring low-carbon steel production to the United States.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_