President Donald Trump’s Civil Works budget for fiscal year 2019 provides no federal funds for the Charleston Harbor deepening project.
The budget gives the Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, $29 million, of which around $21 million would be used for maintenance dredging of Charleston Harbor.
But the document does not include any money to achieve the 52-foot depth that would enable larger ships to use the port terminals without having to wait for high tide.
The corps said the Charleston deepening project “is not alone” in being passed over for funding in the budget.
“In an era of constrained resources, hard decisions have to be made with available resources,” the district said in a statement.
The dollar amounts in the president’s budget could change; Congress “takes the president’s budget and other factors into account before they ultimately pass an appropriations bill,” the Army Corps said. The president would then sign that bill into law.
Although the decision is not final, port officials stressed the need for federal money.
“While not included in the president’s budget as we were last year, our congressional delegation, Gov. (Henry) McMaster, board and management continue to push both the Army Corps of Engineers and Trump administration for funding,” S.C. Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome said in a news release.
The federal government and the port are supposed to divvy up the cost of the project, with more than $330 million coming from the federal government and almost $200 million from the SCPA, paid for by the state. Lawmakers said during an event in Charleston last year that they would push the Trump administration for funding.
The Charleston deepening project received its first infusion of federal construction dollars last year with $17.5 million from the fiscal year 2017 work plan. That funding, combined with the $300 million the S.C. General Assembly set aside for the project in 2012, enabled dredging work on the project to begin this month.
The dredging company will remove nearly 14 million cubic yards of material from a 20-mile stretch of the entrance channel, deepening it to 54 feet, up from the current 45-foot depth.
Future contracts will be for dredging to a 52-foot depth from the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant to the new Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. Terminal under construction in North Charleston, and for dredging to a 48-foot depth from there up the Cooper River to the North Charleston Terminal.
Although construction can begin with the existing funds, the project still needs $90 million each year for the next three years from the federal government, said Barbara Melvin, the ports authority’s senior vice president of operations and terminals.
Newsome elaborated: “Clearly, top 10 U.S. container ports achieving harbor depths of 50 feet or more are deserving of such funding in the big containership era. We are hopeful that the Trump infrastructure approach ... which emphasizes ‘skin in the game’ in terms of local funding as its core principle, will give further impetus to funding essential container port infrastructure in the U.S.”