Stern: Deepening Port of Charleston crucial to entire state
Source: The State
October 13, 2014
COLUMBIA, SC — It is well-known that state government, the universities and Fort Jackson are vital and vibrant components of economic prowess in the Midlands. Lesser known is the role that the Port of Charleston plays. Exporting and importing at the Port of Charleston are tied to nearly 52,000 jobs, $2.4 billion in salaries and wages and $9 billion in economic impact throughout the Midlands.
The Midlands is the hub of the nation’s tire-making industry, thanks to Continental, Bridgestone and Michelin, and hosts world-class companies such as Metso Minerals, Komatsu and Haier, all of which rely on the port.
And then there are smaller companies such as Gwen Rawls in Columbia, a shoe boutique that relies upon the port to import Italian-made women’s shoes.
It is because of this robust part of our economy that all of us should be celebrating a project that justifiably can be called the greatest game-changer for jobs and economic opportunity in generations. Harbor deepening at South Carolina’s Port of Charleston is just that, and we have the opportunity within the next few months to guarantee the vitality of the state’s most important economic tool well into the future.
This is a project around which business groups, political leadership of both parties and many other organizations from every corner of the state are rallying because of its transcendent importance.
South Carolina’s ability to deepen the Charleston harbor to 52 feet will be felt in the Midlands and every other part of our state. Today 260,800 jobs statewide are tied to the port — that’s one in 11 jobs. The port handles $63 billion in goods every year and produces a $45 billion-a-year economic impact on the state.
Competition is the name of the game. With shipping, time is money. Shipping companies will use the port that maximizes efficiencies, minimizes costs and offers the opportunity to fully load their ships.
To minimize the cost of transporting their goods, companies that import and export want to be near a port that meets their needs. States with capable deepwater ports have a tremendous advantage over their competitors.
The Charleston harbor must be deepened because of the big ships being built today — ships that were not envisioned before the Panama Canal launched an expansion project to accommodate them. They are about 250 feet longer and 55 feet wider. They will choose the port that offers them the deepest lanes and quickest turnaround times.
Today, the Charleston port can bring the biggest vessels into dock only two to three hours a day during high tide, when the maximum harbor depth is 47 feet. A 52-foot harbor would accommodate them around the clock. Having the deepest harbor in our region would give our state a huge advantage, attracting new businesses, manufacturers and warehouses. Our harbor would be deeper than Savannah’s, and we are closer to the open ocean.
This project is so vital that an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the General Assembly voted to set aside the state’s cost of the construction — making us the only state in the country that has done so. South Carolina’s entire business community — both local and state — is backing it.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently released the Draft Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement that illustrates this project easily can be constructed in an environmentally responsible manner. In fact, moving more cargo on fewer and often newer ships will have a positive impact on air quality. The project does not impact wetlands directly, and the indirect impacts will be appropriately mitigated. The project meets federal regulations on water quality for the protection of aquatic life.
The Corps and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control are responsible for making the final decision to approve harbor deepening. As part of this process, public comments are being sought through Nov. 24. If you want to learn more about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we invite you to log on to scspa.com, where you will find the details about the project as well as how to submit your comment.
Mr. Stern is a Columbia businessman who chairs the State Ports Authority; contact him at email@example.com.