Harbor deepening review could be moving into final stage

Critical Solutions International demonstrates a Husky armored vehicle with a mounted arm that can detect land mines and improvised explosive devices.

One of the last hurdles to deepening Charleston Harbor could be cleared beginning this month when an Army Corps of Engineers board makes its final review of the project’s feasibility study.

The agency’s Civil Works Review Board has set June 25 as the date to begin its review of the “Post-45 Deepening Project,” which would prepare the Port of Charleston for supersized cargo vessels passing through a newly expanded Panama Canal.

Following the review, the board will issue a Chief of Engineers report, which is needed to begin construction. The chief’s report, which is expected by September, is what will be used to lobby Congress for money to pay for the deepening project.

“With that in hand, I think we can responsibly say we could realize this project by the end of 2019,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority. “It’s an aggressive timetable, but we’ve advanced the timelines of this project and we don’t need to wait any longer than we have to.”

The project would deepen the harbor to 52 feet from 45 feet. The estimated cost is $509 million. The federal government and the state would contribute $166 million and $343 million, respectively. The General Assembly already has set aside the state’s portion.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the June 25 review date “great news.”

“In football terms, we’ve moved the ball down the field and are now in the red zone,” Graham said in a statement. “The port is invaluable to the state of South Carolina and the country as a whole. This announcement from the corps is another crucial step forward in helping us secure funding and advance to construction.”

This is the first deep-draft navigation project in which the Corps of Engineers has used its “smart” planning process, which helps to accelerate permitting.

Right now, Charleston’s port can handle ships carrying the equivalent of about 9,000 20-foot-long containers, depending on the tide. Once deepened, it would be able to load and unload ships with about 10,000 20-foot boxes at any time and ships with up to 14,000 containers if the tide is high enough.

Those larger ships are expected to become the norm once Panama Canal expansion is completed early next year.

An inaugural award from the U.S. Department of Defense was presented to Critical Solutions International and Heather Schoetz, the company’s chief strategy officer, on Friday as the company celebrated moving its headquarters from Texas to Charleston.

CSI, which provides blast-protected vehicles called Husky to armies in the U.S. and other countries, has about 35 employees — many of them ex-military — at its new office on Clements Ferry Road, CEO Patrick Callahan said.

CSI’s vehicles, which include radar that detects land mines and improvised explosive devices, are being used to fight terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan. The company also sends staff to those countries to train foreign armies on how to use the vehicles.

John Johns, the U.S. government’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for maintenance policy and programs, presented the award recognizing exmplary support for foreign security programs.

Schoetz was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013-14 to train that country’s military forces in logistics, equipment maintenance and sustainment. Schoetz, who came to CSI from General Dynamics Land Systems, was part of a NATO-led group providing international security assistance.

“Heather is probably the best natural leader that I know,” said Johns, who led the Kabul-based group that included Schoetz. “She was the major energy behind every accomplishment we had in advice and training sustainment. The team that she led made major contributions, everything from unit-level engagement and things like preventative maintenance to strategic engagement at the very highest levels of the ministry of defense.”

Johns noted that CSI shares in the award — named The Maintenance Training, Advice, and Assistance of Foreign Security Forces Excellence Award — because it allowed Schoetz to take a year away from the company to participate in the training initiative.

Former governor and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said CSI “joins a thriving community of defense contractors here in the Charleston area.

“I think it’s worth noting that CSI is leading the way in the fight against global terror and providing the vehicles keeping both Americans and Iraqis safe,” Sanford said during Friday’s ceremony.

Sanford said the federal government recently confirmed a new order for 10 Husky 2G mine clearance vehicles to be deployed in Iraq as coalition forces continue to improve route clearance abilities. That order supplements a $73.5 million purchase earlier this year made directly by the Iraq Ministry of Defense.

CSI will supply the Husky 2G in partnership with South Africa-based DCD Protected Mobility, which makes the two-person vehicles. The Husky 2G is equipped with a movable arm that is used to probe suspected explosive devices.

Callahan said the company chose to relocate to Charleston from Carrollton, Texas, due to the improving business climate in South Carolina and the ease of access to international shipping from the Port of Charleston.

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