The Charleston Harbor deepening project, better known as Charleston Harbor Post 45, began with a Congressional add to the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget allowing the Charleston District to complete a reconnaissance study on Charleston Harbor to determine if there was a federal interest in conducting a feasibility study. The reconnaissance phase was completed in July 2010 and concluded that there is federal interest in performing a feasibility study to determine what future depth of the harbor can best reduce transportation inefficiencies and provide the most benefit to the Nation. .
The reconnaissance report demonstrated that a large percentage of the vessels currently using Charleston Harbor are tide-restricted. The current federally authorized depth of Charleston Harbor is 45 feet. This means that Charleston Harbor’s 24-hour-draft-limit is currently 43 feet, with a high-tide draft limit of 48 feet. As of now, 16 percent of the world’s ocean-going ships would be restricted either by tide or cargo carriage if calling on Charleston Harbor, with that percentage constantly increasing due to the changing composition of the global vessel fleet.
On May 17th, 2011, the FY 11 work plan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was approved by the Office of Management and Budget and included $150,000 of federal funding for the Post 45 project. With this funding, the Charleston District began the multi-year feasibility study to determine if deepening Charleston Harbor is both economically beneficial and environmentally acceptable to the nation.
The signing of the Feasibility Cost-Sharing Agreement (FCSA) took place on June 20th, 2011 between the Charleston District and the project’s sponsor, the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA). The FCSA stated that the feasibility study will be cost-shared 50-50 with the SCSPA, but will be conducted by the Charleston District.
A feasibility study for a project of this magnitude would typically take 5-8 years and cost approximately $18-20 million, but the Charleston District is committed to work as quickly and efficiently as possible. As part of the Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Modernization Initiative, the Charleston District, along with our Division and Headquarters Subject Matter Experts, developed a plan that targets completion of the Feasibility Study Chief’s Report by September 2015 at a cost of $13 million or less. This project has also been selected to be part of the President’s We Can’t Wait Initiative for critical national infrastructure projects.
During the study phase, the Charleston District will identify the National Economic Development (NED) plan that maximizes the net benefits to the nation, in an environmentally acceptable manner, as a result of deepening the federal channel. The NED plan will look at the benefits of reduced total transportation costs for each potential incremental project depth and reduced tide delay costs for increases in new vessels’ maximum practicable loading capacity.
While there has been much speculation on the future depth of the harbor, the Charleston District, until completion of the feasibility study, does not yet know what the Corps of Engineers will recommend to Congress as the NED plan for Charleston Harbor. The District’s engineers, planners, surveyors and project manager will work, along with many environmental resource agencies, to analyze a full array of alternatives to determine what depth the Corps will recommend to Congress for authorization.
With Charleston Harbor being the fourth busiest East Coast port for container traffic with 1.3 million TEU/year, number eight of all U.S. ports for cargo value at $50 billion/year and generating more than 260,000 jobs in South Carolina, it is easy to understand why so many people have taken an interest in the future of the harbor.
The Corps has maintained Charleston Harbor for more than 130 years and has dredged it every year during that time to ensure the channel is at the required federal project depth, spending approximately $10-15 million and removing 2-3 million cubic yards of maintenance material from the harbor floor each year. Construction to deepen the harbor to the now federally authorized 45 foot depth began in 1999 and was completed in 2004.