Army Corps recommends Charleston’s shipping lanes be deepened to 52 feet

Source: The Post and Courier

By John McDermott @byjohnmcdermott

Oct 7 2014 9:18 am 

The Army Corps of Engineers is recommending in a new study that the Port of Charleston’s main shipping lanes be deepened at a cost of more than a half a billion dollars to 52 feet to accommodate larger cargo ships.
Dredging Map
The estimated cost is $509 million. The federal government and the State Ports Authority would contribute $166 million and $343 million, respectively.

Previously, the cost had been estimated at about $350 million.
“The entire project is economically justified,” the Army Corp said in its preliminary feasibility report.
The federal permitting agency’s local office posted the 345-page study about the dredging project on its website Tuesday.
The public can begin commenting on the findings Friday until Nov. 24.
The SPA has been working with the Army Corps to dredge Charleston’s navigation channel to at least 50 feet from 45 since 2011 under an accelerated schedule.
Based on the recommendations in the study, the maritime agency would gain an extra seven feet of water for its workhorse Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant and a new container port it is building on the old Navy base in North Charleston. The shipping lanes leading to and from the SPA’s North Charleston Terminal farther up the Cooper River would be deepened to 48 feet.
Also, the existing turning basins would be enlarged, and the entrance channel to the harbor would go to 54 feet from 47 and be expanded three miles seaward.
Changes in the global maritime business are driving the dredging trend. Ports with the deepest waterways will have a critical competitive advantage as heavier but cost-efficient “megaships” start calling on the East Coast in greater numbers. More of those larger container carriers are expected to start arriving after an expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in early 2016.
A 50-foot channel will be the minimum required to handle the bigger containerships around the clock, regardless of tidal conditions, SPA chief executive Jim Newsome said in his “State of the Port” address last month. He also was hopeful that the would recommend dredging the harbor to as much as 52 feet.
The deepening project would be completed in 2019 if approved. The feasibility and impact study is a key step in the regulatory process. The final version of the report is scheduled to be released in September 2015.
Newsome said the ability to handle the heavier class of bigger vessels “24 hours a day without tidal restriction is critical to the future competitiveness of our state port system.”
He also said it ensures that the Port of Charleston “will continue to grow above the market average and remain a top 10 port, facilitating trade and economic development for our entire state, region and nation.”
The Maritime Association of S.C. said its members are “thrilled” with the recommendation.
“The maritime community has steadfastly advocated for a deeper channel that will allow passage of the industry’s largest ships without regard to tide,” Pam Zaresk, president, said in a statement. “In this new era of mega-ships, where time and weight is money, a 52 foot channel gives Charleston a critical advantage over all of our South Atlantic competitors who cannot handle fully loaded ships and will continue to grapple with depth and tidal restraints.”
The Army Corps said it will hold a public meeting to discuss the preliminary study. It will be held Oct. 21 5:30-8:30 p.m. at The Citadel’s Alumni Center, 69 Hagood Ave., Charleston.