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Port of Georgetown: Legislators press county for dredging funds

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Sen. Yancey McGill told business leaders last week that the answer to dredging the channel at the port of Georgetown is in the fine print.

“This is not a Georgetown County dredging,” McGill said. “This is a state port.”

McGill said the General Assembly stands ready to assist Georgetown’s port.

“When we set aside $300 million for the Charleston port,” he said, “instead of putting the words ‘Charleston harbor’ we put ‘South Carolina harbors.’ ”

That slight bit of editing, McGill said, will allow the state to designate $18.5 million of its dredging funds for work at Georgetown harbor and Winyah Bay.

Other members of the Georgetown County Legislative Delegation, Sen. Ray Cleary, Rep. Carl Anderson and Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, agreed that dredging is a top priority. They spoke at a legislative breakfast last week hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.

McGill said Sen. Hugh Leatherman, chairman of the Finance Committee, had verified the Georgetown funding as recently as last week on the condition that county money was on its way.

“Sen. Leatherman wanted to know what will be put in the pot locally,” McGill said.

With the defeat of a 1-cent sales tax referendum, Georgetown County Council must find $5.5 million from other sources to get the ball rolling.

Council Members Ron Charlton and Bob Anderson have suggested revising the list of projects in the Capital Improvement Plan to fund the money.

“We feel good about it,” McGill said. “We had no base a year ago.”

McGill said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has put a small port dredging budget together that could help secure the remainder of the $33.5 million estimated cost of Georgetown’s project.

McGill recognized Tom Keegan, who was representing U.S. Rep. Tim Scott of Charleston at the breakfast. “He [Scott] could be our new senator by next month,” McGill said.

That would bode well for South Carolina’s harbors. U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who announced plans to resign to become head of the Heritage Foundation, has only agreed not to oppose federal dredging funding for Charleston. Scott, a Charleston native, would be more amenable despite his conservative stances. He has favored a federal dredging bill, not as an earmark, but as a job-creating investment.

Dredging supporters received more good news this week with U.S. Rep.-elect Tom Rice’s appointment to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“I look forward to working on the significant needs of the 7th Congressional District, including the I-73 corridor and dredging of the Georgetown Port,” Rice said.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has jurisdiction over all modes of transportation: aviation, maritime and waterborne transportation, roads, bridges, mass transit and railroads. It also has jurisdiction over the activities of the Corps of Engineers.

McGill advised local business leaders to be patient. Dredging permits are in place, he said, and the project will go out to bid once funding is secured. Within the next 12 months, McGill added, there could be announcements of 2,500 to 3,500 new jobs in the region.

The port got its first new customer in a decade last month when Metglas of Conway received a shipment of Canadian steel billets, the raw material necessary for its metal glass alloys and components. A shallow-draft ship from Holland was secured to make the delivery since some areas of the channel have silted in since the last dredging.

Georgetown’s volume has doubled over the past year, from 277,000 tons to nearly 600,000, according to Byron Miller, vice president of marketing/sales support for the South Carolina Ports Authority. CSX railroad has made $500,000 in improvements at the port in anticipation of more business.

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