Atlantic intracoastal waterway woes

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is a lifeline for commercial and recreational boaters in Horry and Georgetown counties. It's the only way to get to the ocean for many boaters, and its economic impact along the Grand Strand is in the millions.

But there is a growing problem with the federally funded waterway that's leaving boaters literally stuck in the mud. The problem, is that the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, or ICW, is a federally funded government project. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible to make sure it's taken care of. But because of lack of funding, the livelihoods of boaters are reaching a crisis point along the Grand Strand, and it only looks like the situation is going to get worse.

The Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of taking care of the Atlantic ICW, stretching 1200 miles from Norfolk Virginia, through Key West Florida.

Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association's Gregg Smith says the ICW is a federal waterway that's an unfunded federal mandate.

He says in South Carolina it takes $6 million to properly take care of the waterway, but over the last 6 years, its averaged less than half of that.

And he says this year it's only going to get worse. Because of budget cuts and a slow economy, there is no money set aside for dredging in this years federal budget. Money for dredging has manly come from earmarks, and with a new congress cutting what they call "pork spending," those earmarks are getting stiff resistance.

Smith says the ICW has a $5 to $10 million economic impact along the Grand Strand alone for recreational boaters. He says part of the problem is that congress uses the same measure it did in the 1930's for designating dredging funding .They only account for commercial traffic, not recreational boaters and marinas.

The authorized depth of the ICW is 12-feet. But since it hasn't been properly dredged in years, there are many areas as low as 2.5 feet, creating serious navigation safety issues for South Carolina's 80-thousand registered boaters in the first congressional district.

And it's not just the ICW that's in trouble in our area.

The Georgetown port is about 21-feet deep, 6-feet shy of its original depth.

It may not sound like a lot, but it's enough to keep ArcelorMittal steel mill from using the port. Instead, they're sending their products and jobs to North Carolina for shipping.

U.S. Senators Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, have recently introduced an Army Corps of Engineers Reform Bill that they say would force the Corps to address national priorities such as the ICW in South Carolina without earmarks. They say it will also give states more flexibility to maintain projects.

Gregg Smith with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association says the best thing citizens can do to get involved is to write their legislators, asking them to make dredging in South Carolina a priority in the next congressional budget.

To contact your legislator, click on the links below.

Senate Members:

Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Jim Demint (R-SC)

House Members:

Tim Scott (R-SC-1)

Joe Wilson (R-SC-2)

Jeff Duncan (R-SC-3)

Trey Gowdy (R-SC-4)

Mick Mulvaney (R-SC-5)

James Clyburn (D-SC-6)