The Charleston Harbor is now the deepest port on the East Coast at 52 feet. On Dec. 5, 2022, the Charleston District gathered with stakeholders to celebrate the completion of the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project. This project addressed transportation inefficiencies by deepening and widening Charleston Harbor to allow for growth in the shipping industry with the influx of post-Panamax ships calling on the port in the Lowcountry.
The Charleston District has worked with the project's non-federal sponsor, the South Carolina Ports Authority, since 2010 to complete studies and move the project toward a 52-foot-deep federal channel. The project was one of the first seven that President Obama's Administration expedited under its "We Can't Wait" initiative for critical infrastructure projects.
Our non-federal partner, the SCPA, is one of the largest economic drivers in the state, providing over $60 billion in statewide economic impact. More than one in 10 jobs in the state are directly related to port activities. The port has set record numbers of imports nearly every month for the past two years and recently opened the new state-of-the-art Hugh K. Leatherman terminal in 2021.
Completing the deepening allows for the largest ships in the world to visit no matter their load, the tide, or the time of day. Before the project was entirely complete however, records for the largest ships to visit Charleston were already being broken when conditions allowed. First to break the record was the CMA-CGM Marco Polo in May 2021, followed by the COSCO Camellia in March 2022. In September of the same year, with a draft of 48 feet, 11 inches, the MSC Rayshmi visited Charleston Harbor, officially taking the title as the largest ship to ever visit.
The USACE team worked tirelessly to complete the project on time and budget, and it was the first large navigation project in the nation to be conducted under the Corps' streamlined civil works planning process. The team was comprised of engineers, navigation specialists, scientists, economists, planners, and project managers from across USACE representing the best and the brightest in their fields, and the deepening occurred over the course of seven district commanders starting with Lt. Col Jason Kirk and culminating with Lt. Col. Andrew Johannes.
Beginning in 2011, the $580 million Post 45 Harbor Deepening Project aimed to deepen Charleston Harbor from 45 feet to 52 feet. The additional depth allows for the world's largest fully loaded container ships to call on the port, no matter the tide. With the completion of this project, Charleston is now seeing record-breaking levels of cargo traveling through its port, and new businesses are taking advantage of the depth.
Post 45 is the first study to be completed in the Corps under their new SMART Planning process as part of the Corps' Planning Modernization effort. This enabled the Charleston District to complete the Feasibility Phase in four years for approximately $11 million after an original estimate of seven years and $20 million. The Charleston District collaborated closely with state and federal partner agencies to complete the required studies and associated environmental reviews and permits. This has led Post 45 to become a model for future Civil Works projects around the Corps.
The Corps has maintained Charleston Harbor for more than 140 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.
Charleston Harbor has strategic national importance for military readiness, supporting Joint Base Charleston, and regionally the harbor deepening is of economic significance, allowing post-Panamax vessels to call upon the harbor.