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Presidential budget includes money for Charleston Harbor project

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By Lauren Ratcliffe
lratcliffe@scbiznews.com
Published Feb. 13, 2012

While criticizing the feasibility of President Obama’s budget for 2013, Sen. Lindsey Graham praised the inclusion of $3.5 million for studies into the Charleston Harbor deepening project.

Mayor Joe Riley
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley expressed thankfulness Monday for the inclusion of $3.5 million in President Obama’s budget to be used for studies into the Charleston Harbor deepening project. (Photo/Leslie Burden)
Calling the inclusion an indication that the president understands the importance of the Charleston port, Graham cautioned that there is still much work to do before the project could be completed.

“The budget as a whole is going nowhere in the Senate, but we need to be appreciative of the Obama administration for including the port of Charleston in the budget,” he said during a Monday conference call.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley also expressed thankfulness at the inclusion, calling the day an important one not only for Charleston but the entire Southeast.

“The deepening of our harbor is important to the national economy,” Riley said. “Modernizing our ports, modernizing our infrastructure is essential to our national competitiveness.”

Last January, Riley met with the President to discuss the importance of the project for 2012, although it was not included in that budget, making the 2013 budget even more important.

“What we knew was for this harbor deepening to be a reality, we had to get into the president’s budget,” Riley said.

If the budget fails — as Graham predicts it will — the inclusion of the port simply makes it easier for money to be appropriated.

“At the end of the day, I’m on the appropriations committee,” Graham said. “It allows us to appropriate money without it being considered an earmark. In 2013, it makes the task easier, but it has not solved the problem.”

In total, it is estimated that about $300 million still needs to come from somewhere over the next five to six years.

Graham said he feels confident that Charleston’s money will come through even if the budget is rejected in the House and Senate.

“I’m very confident (the money will hold),” Graham said. “I think everybody in the House thinks this is important. I’d hate to be a House member who told me no.”

It’s been estimated that the project could take until 2024 to be completed, something Graham calls unacceptable — especially in light of the Panama Canal expansion in 2014.

“The ships on the ocean are going to be three times the size they are today, and no one has planned for that change in infrastructure,” Graham said. “If we wait until 2024, all those ships will have found a home by then.”

In addition to the $3.5 million included for the feasibility study, the Charleston district was allotted $15.8 million for maintenance of the harbor.

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