The Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Feasibility Study reached another major milestone when the results of the study were presented to the Civil Works Review Board in Washington, D.C., on June 25th. At the end of the meeting, the panel members, comprised of senior U.S. Army Corps of Engineers leaders and chaired by Maj. Gen. John Peabody, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations, unanimously agreed with the Charleston District’s project delivery team’s recommendation and approved the release of Final Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement and the proposed Chief’s Report. The Final Report recommends deepening portions of the federal channel to 52 feet.
The successful CWRB marks the second time a Charleston District project has set a national standard for completing studies under the Corps’ new planning process. The new process, launched in 2012, is designed to complete studies faster and at less cost while producing reports that are more concise than were typically produced under the previous process. This June, the Post 45 study set the new standard by being the first study in the nation to start under the new process and achieve a successful CWRB meeting.
The Final Report now undergoes a 30 day state and agency review period, running from July 10th through August 10th. It provides an opportunity for state and federal agencies, and the public, to see how their comments and concerns were addressed in the Final Report and were used to make a more informed decision. It is also the last step in the public review process before the Record of Decision is signed, which documents completion of the National Environmental Policy Act requirements. Following the review, the Chief’s Report, an abbreviated version of the Final Report that concentrates on the information needed for Congressional authorization and appropriation actions, is expected to be finalized and coordinated through the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works and the Office of Management and Budget before being sent to Congress for authorization and appropriation of federal funds for construction.
The Final Report looks much like the draft that was released for review last October. The final version is about 30 pages longer, due mostly to the addition of details to address comments and questions related to early stages of the plan selection process and requests for more specific information in the mitigation and adaptive management plan. Being on the leading edge of the new process meant that the team lacked examples and guidance to help balance the level of detail with the desire to produce the most concise report possible. On a large, complex navigation study like Post 45, this turned out to be one of the team’s biggest challenges.
The finalization of the Chief’s Report will mark the end of the feasibility study phase. This is followed by the Preconstruction Engineering and Design phase. The PED phase takes the conceptual design formulated during the study and refines it into detailed plans and specifications that can be used to award a contract to construct the improvements. That process is expected to take 18-24 months and cost about $4.5 million. Federal funding has been allocated to start the PED phase and it is expected to start later this summer after a design agreement that defines the roles and cost-sharing responsibilities of the Charleston District and the South Carolina State Ports Authority is developed and signed. Once construction funds are appropriated, a project partnership agreement can be executed and construction can begin. Construction could be completed within about four to six years, depending on the availability of funding and equipment needed to complete the work efficiently.