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In Unusual Accord, S.C.’s Federal Lawmakers Agree on Port Funding

Port Needs Trump Congressional Aversion to Spending

By Porter Barron Jr.
Thursday, May 29, 2014 |
A strange political phenomenon quietly emerged from South Carolina last week: consensus among the federal legislative delegation — eight Republicans and one Democratic congressman — on a $12 billion spending package to improve water-related infrastructure.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act provides funding and guidelines for everything from drinking water systems to ports and canals — and will smooth the way for projects like the multimillion-dollar deepening of the Port of Charleston and dredging of the Georgetown port.

Sure, the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate had spent six months hammering out a compromise, with Republicans trying to figure out how to fund projects back home without violating their own earmarks ban.

But even a call to “vote no” from the Heritage Foundation — Jim DeMint’s influential, right-wing think tank — wasn’t enough to sway its ideological kin on the South Carolina delegation, as they linked arms in support of the Port of Charleston.

Aversion to big-government spending be damned, they essentially said, in recognizing how crucial the port is to the state economy. The spending package also enjoyed the support of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, which tends to welcome government spending on infrastructure.

The South Carolina Ports Authority, needless to say, is pleased.

“This bill includes language that addresses our priorities, specifically, a seamless transition into construction for the Charleston Harbor deepening project and the possibility to secure channel maintenance funding for the Port of Georgetown,” says Jim Newsome, its president and CEO.

Charleston’s deepening project is slated to begin in late 2015, pending approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. The State Ports Authority intends to deepen the Charleston Harbor to somewhere between 50 and 52 feet.

The bill also provides a path for non-federal entities to qualify for federal reimbursement on project costs if Congress fails to pass a water bill during a congressional term.

Additionally, the bill includes funds for smaller ports that the State Ports Authority is eyeing, with the expansion of the Port of Georgetown in mind.

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