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South Carolina Votes to Fully Fund Charleston Dredging

On June 29, the South Carolina legislature underscored its commitment to the Charleston Harbor dredging by voting an extraordinary fund of $300 million, adding to a previously-set-aside $180 million, to fully fund the Charleston dredging after its approval by the U.S. Congress.

Charleston harbor is 45 feet deep now; the money will fund an additional five feet of depth to handle post-Panamax vessels.

The $300 million would be spent only if the U.S. Congress doesn’t pay its $120 million share under normal cost-share guidelines. The spending plan is waiting for Gov. Nikki Haley’s signature.

Jim Newsome, chief executive officer of the State Ports Authority, told the Charleston Post and Courier that the vote makes clear to the port’s customers that the dredging will happen.

A Charleston Corps spokesman, Sean McBride, said it wasn’t lack of money that has slowed up the project so far. “We still have to follow all our regulations and laws,” he said.

State dredging proponents say the Corps permitting process takes too long.

Interagency Fight in State Court

Meanwhile, the battle by South Carolina’s Savannah River Maritime Commission to have itself recognized as the sole South Carolina permitting authority for Savannah River dredging took a new turn June 25.

That was when the state court, responding to an injunction request by the SRMC, blocked action by another state agency, the Joint Project Office Board, until the court decides whether or not it shares permitting authority with the commission. The Board was meeting to vote on whether to proceed with steps to build a new port on the Savannah River in Jasper County.

The commission was created in 2007 to represent the state’s navigation and dredging interests on the Savannah River. Its members include powerful state legislators, including political enemies of Haley.

When the commission opposed plans by Haley to offer no opposition to Georgia’s plans to dredge the river, and to allow it to dump dredged materials in South Carolina, Haley went around the commission by having another state agency, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, issue the necessary permits. Her opponents accused her of a “Savannah River sellout” and launched a political campaign against her that included having her aides subpoenaed. Among other objections, Haley’s opponents argue that Georgia’s dredging plans threaten the development of South Carolina’s Jasper County port.

Haley has argued, echoing the Corps of Engineers, that the Savannah River Maritime Commission does not have standing to stop Georgia’s dredging in any case, and that she was merely recognizing reality in taking her unpopular stance.
The Corps told an administrative law judge in May that U.S. law allows it to bypass states that threaten to obstruct necessary navigation maintenance work like harbor dredging. Two disputes over the dredging controversy are pending in administrative law court.

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