Dredging for dollars

When dredging is complete, ships larger than this one will be able to use the port of Charleston

Few would say that a dredge or the work that it does digging up mud and sludge is a pretty sight.

But the first post-Panamax container ship that enters the newly dredged Charleston Harbor should be a very pretty sight for the state’s economy.

It looks as if that could happen in 2019 or 2020.

On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers approved a plan to deepen the shipping channel in Charleston Harbor from 45 feet to 52 feet, which will make it the deepest port on the East Coast.

South Carolina’s General Assembly has wisely set aside $343 million to cover most of the price tag. Congress is expected to be presented a report on the project in September so it can move forward with funding its portion — $166 million.

President Barack Obama named the dredging project one of his “We Can’t Wait” initiatives in 2013. That’s fitting. A healthy Charleston port is important to the nation as well as the state.

The port of Charleston, which is expected to break its record for cargo containers next year, is doing well. A deeper harbor will allow it to continue to thrive when the Panama Canal widening project is complete and giant container ships begin calling on East Coast ports.

Those ships will able to carry 14,000 containers, an additional 1 million to 2 million cargo boxes to East Coast ports from Asian countries.

The ability to handle post-Panamax ships will be another marketable asset as South Carolina tries to attract new business and industry and the jobs they bring.

The port has certainly been an asset to BMW in Greer. Between 800 and 1,000 BMWs move through the Columbus Street Terminal every day.

Indeed, about $60 billion worth of cargo goes through the port of Charleston each year.

In order to accommodate the greater size and volume of post-Panamax ships, the port is also spending more than $700 million to build a new cargo terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston.

It is supposed to be complete about the time the harbor deepening project is finished. The state Legislature has acknowledged the port’s value by committing the money necessary for the dredging and other infrastructure.

Now it’s time for legislators to come up with a solution for the repair and improvement of the state’s failing roads and bridges. Much of the cargo handled by the port also travels by truck.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ go-ahead to dredge is reason for the state to celebrate — and for the General Assembly to meet South Carolina’s infrastructure challenges.