Clyburn optimistic on harbor study funds

Huge container ships such as the MSC Rita, the largest to ever call at the Port of Charleston, are driving the rush to secure harbor-deepening dollars.

ALAN HAWES

Long-sought money for a study of deepening the Charleston Harbor shipping channel could be included when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases its national work plan later this month.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn understands money for several port projects, including Charleston, will be in the plan being developed now that the new federal budget finally passed, said the congressman's spokeswoman, Hope Derrick.

"We are very optimistic," Derrick said. "I would say optimistic. Confident may be a little too certain."

Corps spokesman Gene Pawlik in Washington said the work plan is still being put together and couldn't comment. He said it is expected to be released around mid-month.

The Defense Department and Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act signed by President Barack Obama on April 15 gave the agency 30 days to come up with a plan allocating the $4.9 billion the bill provides to civil works programs.

Clyburn, a Democrat, has been working with the White House to get money for the Charleston study.

Money for a feasibility study of deepening the harbor serving the fourth-largest container port on the East Coast has been caught in opposition to federal budget earmarks.

Other lawmakers have also been seeking money to study the feasibility of deepening the shipping channel to 50 feet so Charleston can handle larger ships that will call after the Panama Canal is widened.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has also been working to get approval from the Office of Management and Budget to allow the corps to use $50,000 appropriated last year to advance the Charleston study.

"That's a work in progress," said Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop. "I can't give you a timeline but we're hoping the sooner the better."

An earlier report by the Corps of Engineers concluded that the project is nationally important and that the port generates $100 million in annual benefits, said Byron Miller, a State Ports Authority spokesman.

He said the money is needed to start the feasibility study that will be paid for by the state and federal governments. That study could cost between $12 million and $20 million.

"It's a three- to five-year study," he said. "We need to get it started and get the ball rolling."