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Economy: Ports authority will aid in channel dredging

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The South Carolina Ports Authority will contribute $5 million toward dredging Georgetown Harbor, a member of the board of directors said this week.

David J. Posek, recently re-appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley to a second five-year term on the ports authority board, told members of the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club that he is confident the Georgetown port will be dredged to a depth of 27 feet within four years.

“We need about $33 million to deepen it to 27 feet,” said Posek, a resident of Heritage Plantation who lived in Greenville when he was originally appointed by Gov Mark Sanford. “There is a $5 million budget line item at the state level that will, hopefully, be a three-year item. That’s $15 million from the state. The ports authority has basically decided to put in $5 million of its own money, and there’s $10 million of other money being talked about: $5 million from the feds and $5 million locally.”

Federal money could become available to Georgetown because of a change in the law regarding tonnage necessary to be eligible for dredging by the Corps of Engineers. Posek said Rep. Tom Rice, Rep. Jim Clyburn and Sen. Lindsey Graham did a “yeoman’s job of trying to do the right thing with the water bill and opened an avenue for small harbors to get funds.”

Posek said Georgetown will be a bulk and break bulk port with its water depth of 27 feet. “There’s a whole class of carriers that are perfect for that,” he said. “Studies say we’d have 2.5 million tons of stuff coming through. It’s not a matter of getting work, just a matter of getting ships in.”

He said the ports authority is ready to commit to Georgetown’s dredging. “We’ve got six months to deal with the feds and find out how much money we get,” he said. “It’s a matter of cobbling together the money and writing a letter to the corps to say we’re ready and we’ve got the money to dredge and build new diking.”

Posek said the payback for dredging at Georgetown would require 1.5 tons of freight each year over about 20 years. “If we’re able to generate that amount, we’ll look at deepening, but it’s very difficult to get a permit.”

Posek said once the port is dredged, there would be pressure to widen Highway 521 to four lanes through Williamsburg and Clarendon counties to connect with Interstate 95. “That becomes a big issue,” he said.

The state Department of Transportation will hold a public meeting on the next phase of that project, completion of a bypass around Andrews, next week.

Offshore natural gas or oil exploration could elevate the importance of Georgetown’s port, Posek said. “Before selecting a port, they’ve got to find the gas,” he said. “We would be pretty close to being able to handle equipment for drilling once dredging is finished. Georgetown would be a logistical center that would move stuff back and forth out Winyah Bay, kind of like they do in Louisiana.”

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