Dredging task force member: $30 million needed to dredge Georgetown Port

A newly formed task force is meeting for the first time Tuesday night in Georgetown to discuss ways to assure funding for the port of Georgetown.

Senator Ray Cleary sits on the task force. He says he's received several letters from companies that say they would ship cargo through the Georgetown port if the waterway passage was deeper, 27 feet deep to be exact. Right now it's 21 feet.

Over time, erosion causes sediment and sand to gather on the base of the Intracoastal waterway, causing the need for dredging.

In the past, federal earmarks have paid for the dredging. 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.

Recently, Clearly says, more than $150 million dollars of federal funding was secured to dredge the port of Charleston. He says the cost to dredge the Georgetown port would be between $29 and $30 million to the maximum permitted depth of 29 feet.

Local Georgetown businessman Tim Tilly is the chairman of the task force. According to him, the port plays a huge role in the economic success of the Georgetown.

"We had an economic impact study done in 2009. It basically showed there are a potential 42 jobs per 500,000 tons shipped through port," Tilly said.

At the time the 2009 study was done, Tilly says the port had a potential of shipping 3 million tons of cargo, netting some $30 million dollars into the Georgetown economy, if it was dredged. But it wasn't.

"That business opportunity was lost because they could not get the port dredged," he said.

Tilly says in 2009 some 217,000 tons of cargo were shipped through the port of Georgetown. In 2010 only 124,000 tons of cargo were shipped.

The problem the board hopes to solve is where to find the money for the dredging project. Cleary says ideally the money would come from either a combination of state and federal or just federal dollars, though he says he's not sure where.

"President Obama wants to build jobs across the country, this would certainly do that," Cleary said.

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