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Economic development: Port task force looks for agreement on funding

The Army Corps of Engineers only needs a letter from the State Ports Authority to start the process that will allow state funds rather than federal funds to be used to restore the Port of Georgetown to its authorized depth.

That wasn’t news to state Sen. Yancey McGill, but it was the first time he had heard it said in a room filled with federal, state and local officials as well as businesses that have a stake in the port’s future. And that’s a critical part of the process, he said.

A task force formed by Georgetown County’s legislative delegation met this week with corps and ports officials. Lisa Metheney, assistant chief for project management in the corps’ Charleston district, explained that the $33.5 million estimated cost of dredging the harbor and channel through Winyah Bay to a depth of 27 feet isn’t in the proposed federal budget and isn’t likely to be in future budgets given the low volume of cargo that the port currently handles.

But at 27 feet, businesses that once used the port will return to Georgetown, said Brad Stroble, the ports authority marketing manager for bulk cargo. “There are many of the cargos that were there before that will be back,” he said. “These guys are calling us quarterly for updates.”

McGill is confident of state funding to restore the port’s depth and suggested that a mix of local government funds and private funds be used to pay for the $5 million to $6 million annual maintenance the corps says will be required to maintain the 27-foot depth.

“I believe that would put a different spin on what we are trying to do” to have local and private funds, he said.

“Based on what we know today, we do have the avenue available,” Metheney said. That is a memorandum of understanding between the ports authority and the corps.

Pressed by McGill, she said the memorandum would take four to six months to get approval from the assistant secretary of the army for civil works, but the process could begin now even if the funds aren’t in place. “I can get approval to execute the agreement,” she said.

The corps would not be able to put the project out for bid until the money was in hand, she added.

“The potential is there,” McGill said. “We’re hearing what we need to hear.”

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