Charleston Harbor deepening ahead of schedule

By Eric

CHARLESTON, SC (WCIV) -- The Charleston Harbor deepening project is making up ground. Port and federal officials announced Wednesday the harbor could be deepened from 45 to 50 feet, both sooner and for less money than first thought.

Every year the Army Corps of Engineers digs up parts of the Charleston channel to keep the harbor's depth at least 45 feet. The corps scoops in a few million cubic yards of the stuff. Now think of it on a much bigger scale, to the tune of 40 million more cubic yards. It's a site Charleston could soon see, especially with Wednesday's news that harbor deepening could be coming quicker.

"When it was announced, 2024 was the time frame. We all said it was way too long," said SC Ports Authority CEO, Jim Newsome. "We're down to 2020 now, I think we can do better."

Commissioned to study the feasibility of the project, the Army Corps now says it can complete the study within four years. At first thought, it was going to take at least eight.

In addition, engineers can do it for just $15 million, compared to the initial $20 million estimate.

"This plan to move faster by using educated assumptions from our team, but also used data analysis, where appropriate is based on the experiences we've already had in the first year," said Lt. Col. Ed Chamberlayne.

Since last June, the Army Corps has worked closely with groups like DNR, DHEC and the EPA.

Teamwork and better awareness has led to the improved progress.

"The reason we're so confident, we're saying four years or less from now, is based upon that," said Chamberlayne.

Once the study is done and Congress gives the OK, the big dig can begin. Concerns Charleston was lagging behind in the race for harbor deepening are for the moment, nearly gone.

"The sense of urgency on these types of projects has been ramped up considerably, that's why this is moving faster, people realize we lost time," Newsome said. "Panama being able to complete a whole Panama Canal expansion project, in a shorter period of time than you can do a harbor deepening, that hit a lot of nerves basically."

And it also appeared to give the project a serious push in the right direction.

The current harbor study has been underway since June 2011.

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