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Port of Georgetown: Corps gets $2M to start dredging work

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Three months after Georgetown County voters approved a sales tax increase to fund dredging at the Port of Georgetown, the Army Corps of Engineers has put $2 million into the project.

“We successfully made the case for the Georgetown port project and the federal government has recognized its merit,” said U.S. 7th District Rep. Tom Rice, who announced the funding Tuesday. “This $2 million investment is a critical first step in getting the Georgetown port dredged to 27-feet and highlights the economic impact the port will have on our community.”

Portions of the channel from the Atlantic Ocean through Winyah Bay have silted up as have portions of the harbor itself. The corps has estimated it will cost $33 million to restore the depths, which officials believe will attract more cargo to the port.

Georgetown County will provide $6 million toward the project with a portion of the proceeds from the sales tax that takes effect in May. The legislature and the State Ports Authority have committed $23 million.

State and local funding wasn’t contingent on federal funding, County Administrator Sel Hemingway said. But “It would have been very difficult to hold on to the state money,” he added. “It was a good-faith effort from the state and local government that federal money would be coming.”

The $2 million is in the Charleston district’s budget for this year. It will be used for “environmental coordination and to begin the necessary maintenance of the disposal areas, which is the best strategic use of the funds,” said Glenn Jeffries, the district’s chief of communications.

There isn’t enough capacity in existing spoils sites to complete the entire project, according to the corps, so maintenance on those sites and developing new sites are critical steps.

The corps’ money will be used for positioning the disposal sites to sustain more dredged material, Rice said. Although this is not the final step, it is a step in the right direction in returning the harbor to its authorized depth, he said.

He is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and was appointed to the conference committee for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013. On the conference committee, he backed language in the bill that made 10 percent of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund available for the dredging of low-tonnage, small ports like Georgetown.

“Some skeptics didn’t think the federal funding was coming,” Hemingway said. “This just jump starts us.”

The Charleston District had to adopt an agreement to accept local and state funds for what has been traditionally a federal responsibility. Hemingway said the county is still working on paperwork to complete the agreement. In the meantime, the corps is preparing estimates of the volume of material to be dredged and the cost of dredging, he said.

He said the funding created excitement at all levels of government. “Primarily because, historically, once the commitment is made to a project it makes it easier for future years,” Hemingway said.

With a deeper channel and more cargo volume, the county hopes to be able to qualify for federal funds to maintain the channel depth once the current project is completed. Ongoing maintenance is essential to attract customers to the port, corps officials say.

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