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President signs bill to speed harbor deepening

Source: Charleston Regional Business Journal

June 12, 2014

President Barack Obama signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act this morning, bringing the deepening of Charleston Harbor one step closer to completion.

This is the first water resources bill to pass in seven years, and it allows ports across the U.S. to prevent delays on harbor deepening projects by beginning construction before the projects receive congressional authorization.

In South Carolina, the act will enable the Charleston Harbor Post 45 deepening project to move ahead with construction in September 2015, assuming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, gives the ports authority the green light. Deepening Charleston Harbor will allow the Port of Charleston to handle the largest cargo ships in the world.
The Charleston Army Corps’ chief’s report, due in September 2015, will give Congress a recommended depth to which to dredge the harbor.

“Now, the first bill I’ll sign today is the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, also known as WRRDA, which will put Americans to work modernizing our water infrastructure and restoring some of our most vital ecosystems,” Obama said.

Obama recognized Congress for getting the bill passed by the summer of 2014, something he’d challenged the U.S. House and Senate to do in his State of the Union address this year.

“As more of the world’s cargo is transported on these massive ships, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got bridges high enough and ports that are big enough to hold them and accommodate them so that our businesses can keep selling goods made in America to the rest of the world,” Obama said. “Meanwhile, many of America’s businesses ship their goods across the country by river and by canal, so we’ve got to make sure that those waterways are in tip-top shape.”

The president said the act green-lights 34 water infrastructure projects across the country. He specifically mentioned Boston Harbor and the Port of Savannah. Georgia lawmakers were miffed earlier in the year when Obama’s executive budget didn’t include Savannah’s own port deepening project.

Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz said the president’s signature gives the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project authorization to begin construction.

“The next step for SHEP calls for Georgia to enter a Project Partnership Agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, defining how the costs of the project estimated at $706 million will be shared between the state and federal government,” Foltz said.

The water act also increases the threshold for federal harbor maintenance funding from 45 feet to 50 feet. The S.C. State Ports Authority hopes to deepen Charleston Harbor to 50 feet or 52 feet to accommodate the bigger ships being ordered by shipping companies.

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