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      Task force to meet for third time about Georgetown port

      A task force looking for funds to pay for dredging the Port of Georgetown will meet on Monday to discuss what it would take to allow a private company to operate the port, instead of the South Carolina State Ports Authority which owns and operates the facility.

      The group will meet with the Army Corps of Engineers and The South Carolina State Ports Authority Monday at 10:00 a.m. At the Waccamaw Council of Government building located at 1230 Highmarket Street in Georgetown. The public is invited to attend.

      The newly-formed Port Dredging Task Force has met twice already, on October 6 and September 27.

      At the most recent meeting, Chairman Tim Tilley asked members to "think outside the box" in searching for long-sought dredging funds. Tilley and other task force members believe the port is underused because it is so filled with sediment that large container ships can no longer navigate the channel.

      The task force is currently considering possible funding solutions for dredging the port. One solution would be to get the state government out of the business of running it. Another idea was for the state to shift some cargo tonnage from the port of Charleston to Georgetown.

      If at least a million tons of freight goes through Georgetown per year, it would make the port eligible for federal dredging funds through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

      Tilley said the port is almost halfway to that million ton goal already.

      A cement manufacturer is projected to ship nearly 450,000 tons through Georgetown next year, so a relatively small shift of tonnage away from Charleston could potentially save the state millions of dollars that it wouldn't have to spend on dredging.

      To dredge the port to a depth of 29 feet, which would accommodate freighters up to 600 feet long and 40,000 tons in capacity, would cost an estimated $33.5 million, Tilley said.

      But one issue the task force has to face is that no one really knows how much it would cost to dredge the port.

      Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are expected to be able to help local leaders get a better idea of the true cost of dredging the port at Monday's meeting.