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Port: Council chairman says dredging work on track

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Council Chairman Johnny Morant says all parties will need to work together in order for Georgetown Harbor to be dredged and the county to reap the economic benefits.

County voters approved a sales tax referendum this month that had port dredging as its top priority and set aside $6 million as the county’s share of the estimated $33 million cost. The state General Assembly has set aside $18 million, and the State Ports Authority has pledged $5 million toward the cost of dredging Georgetown’s port. U.S. Rep. Tom Rice said everything he has heard from officials with the Corps about the Georgetown project is positive.

Most supporters of the port dredging were caught off guard this month by comments from Brandan Scully, chief of navigation for the Corps of Engineers’ Charleston District, who said it would be a waste of money to dredge the channel to 27 feet without a strategy for growing port business or money for maintenance dredging. Scully said he wants to encourage Georgetown officials to avoid a path that is unrealistic and unsustainable because the port has a history of not performing.

Morant said dredging the port is not some pie-in-the-sky venture. State and federal leaders, along with county voters, have expressed the feeling that the risk of the investment is worth the potential benefits, he said. A Coastal Carolina University study in 2010 said that every 500,000 tons annually can be expected to yield 42 new jobs, $1.3 million in new local household income and $4.4 million in total local economic output.

Corps officials said any added cargo volume will only put the port in a position to request funds for maintenance. It will still have to compete for those funds. S.C. Sen. Tim Scott joined 21 other senators in requesting that money collected for harbor maintenance be used for its intended purpose: keeping harbors open. The senators asked that spending levels for harbor maintenance be authorized at the levels in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. Scott supported the passage of the act this year. The harbor maintenance funding is utilized to dredge and maintain America’s ports, including the ports in Charleston and Georgetown. The senators wrote that $1.8 billion is being collected for harbor maintenance, but the money is being diverted to other uses.

“The General Assembly had a number of discussions with the South Carolina Ports Authority and the Corps of Engineers before they concluded the benefits of dredging the Port of Georgetown was worth the $18 million investment,” Morant said. “Congressman Tom Rice had similar discussions and concluded the project is worth the extensive work he and his staff have devoted to it. This has resulted in a federal water bill containing favorable language for ports like Georgetown.

“The voters of Georgetown County supported a sales tax referendum based on the benefits to be derived from the capital investment. I think we all realize that all parties have to work together. Everything seems on track with the project.”

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