First construction contract awarded for Charleston Harbor deepening

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The S.C. Ports Authority on Thursday welcomed the CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt, the largest container ship to ever call on the Port of Charleston. Photo courtesy of SCPA.

A $529 million project that could have a major impact on the Upstate’s economic future took a step forward on Thursday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced its Charleston District had awarded the first construction contract for the Charleston Harbor deepening to Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co.

According to the agency, which is the federal partner working alongside the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) for the project, said the $47 million contract will initiate work on the Port of Charleston’s entrance channel.

It is the first of two contracts that will be required to deepen the harbor’s existing entrance from 47 to 54 feet. The agency said it anticipates awarding the second contract by the end of the calendar year.

Work included under the first contract, which is expected to be completed by the spring of 2020, will encompass the dredging and relocation of about 6 million cubic yards of material to an offshore site, the agency said.

“We’re very excited to have awarded the first contract for dredging that will start deepening Charleston Harbor,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, district commander for the USACE, in a statement. “The Charleston District team has been working on this locally, regionally, and nationally important project with the South Carolina Ports Authority since well before I took command so I’m proud to see their hard work come to fruition.”

The project is being financed by $300 million in funds already set aside by state’s General Assembly, with the federal government expected to pay for the remaining costs.

Construction of the entire project is expected to be take 40 to 76 months depending on full funding, dredge availability, weather, and a variety of other factors, USACE said.

In addition to the entrance work, the project will bring the harbor’s main channel depth to 52 feet from its current depth of 45 feet.

Officials said the deepening is vital to the port’s future, as it will increase its ability to accommodate larger, heavier container ships transiting the recently expanded Panama Canal to call on East Coast ports.

SCPA announced Thursday that it welcomed the largest of those vessels, the CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt.

The ports authority said the Roosevelt, with its capacity to carry 14,414 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), is the largest ship to call on the Port of Charleston.

The 13,208-TEU OOCL France was previously the largest ship served by the port, SCPA said.

To complement the deepening project, which SCPA would offer “unfettered access” for 13,000- to 14,000-TEU ships, the ports authority has launched several other infrastructure improvements.

Those projects include a modernization of the Wando Welch Terminal scheduled for completion in the spring of 2018 and construction of the new Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal opening in June 2020.

“The first dredging contract awarded for harbor deepening is outstanding news for SCPA and the State of South Carolina, and the arrival of the biggest ship ever to call our port this morning is a timely and visible example of the importance of the Charleston Harbor deepening project,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of SCPA, in a statement.

“Our harbor will ultimately be the deepest on the East Coast, allowing vessels like the Roosevelt to transit without tidal restriction. Today reaffirms our efforts and investments in terminals and infrastructure to prepare for the big ships being deployed to the East Coast following the Panama Canal expansion and completion of the new Bayonne Bridge.”

According to a 2015 economic impact study by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, more than half of SCPA’s total $53 million economic impact is concentrated in the Upstate.

The manufacturing industry, which represents the primary user base of the port’s facilities, including SCPA’s inland port in Spartanburg County near Greer, encompasses more than 15 percent of the region’s economy, the study said.

In March, SCPA broke ground on its second inland port in Dillon County.

Local leaders said they anticipate container volume growth spurred by the harbor deepening and other improvement projects will be good for businesses in the Upstate.

“A significant portion of the Port of Charleston’s activity is generated in the Upstate,” said Carter Smith, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Futures Group. “It stands to reason that any increase in the port’s ability to compete on a global stage will create more opportunities for economic growth in our region. It translates into more activity to and from the inland port, which elevates our position and makes us even more attractive to companies in neighboring states.”

SCPA was set to host its State of the Port Address Luncheon and S.C. International Trade Conference this week.

Both events had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Irma.

The luncheon will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Monday Sept. 25 at the Charleston Area Convention Center at 5001 Coliseum Drive in North Charleston.

The trade conference will take place Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 at the Gaillard Center at 95 Calhoun Street in Charleston.

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