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Economy: Port dredging gets $15 million from state

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Dredging the channel to the Georgetown port made some big steps forward this week.

State Sen. Ray Cleary told members of the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Monday that the state will set aside $15 million over the next three years as its share to dredge the harbor and get the port back in full operation. And that’s not all. Cleary said money will be set aside over the next two years to make Highway 521 four lanes to I-95.

“We can’t lower taxes on the Waccamaw Neck unless we develop the western part of Georgetown County,” Cleary said. “The port and the four-laning of 521 should go a long way.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. House approved a water resources bill by a vote of 412-4 that included money for smaller ports like Georgetown. Rep. Tom Rice served on the conference committee for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act and brought Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster, to Georgetown to see the port and meet local business people.

For the next seven fiscal years, the bill allocates 10 percent of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund expenditures for improvements at smaller ports handling less than a million tons of cargo annually. The original House version allocated the money for just two years. The trust fund nets about $1.8 billion a year from port users.

“The Georgetown port is going to have to make its case,” Rice told The Associated Press, “and I will help with that with the Corps of Engineers on the merits of dredging the port. I think that’s going to be an easy argument because the state of South Carolina has set aside funds to match the federal funds.”

Dredging the Georgetown port is expected to cost around $32 million.

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Georgetown County Council named six members to a new sales tax commission this month to determine the best use for funds raised from an additional one-cent sales tax in the county. Spending $5 million in local seed money for dredging the port was the top priority proposed two years ago for funds from a sales tax hike. Sen. Yancey McGill told Georgetown County officials that it was critical to have local money pledged in order to get state and federal money.

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