Georgetown port task force hears cost estimate for dredging

The committee that's working on a plan to dredge the port of Georgetown now knows how much the project would cost and how long it would take to complete. The challenge for the task force now is to come up with the money to do it.

Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston district came to the third meeting of the Georgetown Port Dredging Task Force to present estimates for dredging a 300-foot wide channel to a depth of 27 feet. Currently, the port is so shallow due to silt build-up that large commercial ships can't navigate the channel.

Lisa Metheney of the Army Corps' Project Management Division told task force members that the corps' estimate for the project would be $33.5 million, spread out over 3 years. Metheney said the process is more involved than just dropping a bucket into the water and digging. Part of the reason the dredging project would take so long and cost so much, she said, is that areas near the port have to be made ready to accept the disposal material.

"So year one we put the material in there that we've just dredged. We have to let it dry and the next year we come in and we do ditching to pour more water off of it. And then once all the material is dry, then we use it to build up the dike walls, so we can put more material in it in the future," she said.

There are also designs, plans and specifications for the dike raising, along with the actual dredging, she said. "So the contractors know where to take the material, how wide is the channel, how deep does it have to be, any considerations for bends or anything like that."

It would cost at least $1 million just to bring a dredge to the site, Metheney said. Once the port is dredged, it would require another $5 to $6 million per year to properly maintain, she added.

Task force chairman Tim Tilley asked members of the group to go out and start looking for sources of funding and to not limit themselves to just one source, private or public.

State Senator Yancey McGill (D, Kingstree) said he can see several potential sources of funding, from state, local and federal governments, as well as private Georgetown area industries.

"We're not going to put a heavy burden on anyone, but when you have new revenues coming in from economic development that creates jobs, I can tell you now that the funding will be there," McGill said.

Officials have told the task force that if more than 1 million tons of cargo was shipped out of the port per year, the Army Corps would put the Georgetown facility into a larger port category, making it eligible for federal funds to do regular maintenance dredging. State Representative Carl Anderson (D, Georgetown) said the port already has commitments from one company for shipping more than 400,000 tons next year and is well-positioned to attract more.

"We've got the Charleston port, we've got the Wilmington, North Carolina port. We're in the middle of that and, hey, if we can get folks to really utilize our port, to get us to that million tons, then automatically, the federal government's going to put us on the list to maintain it," Anderson said.

Representatives from the S.C. Port Authority told task force members that the Georgetown port may also benefit from the newly-announced $1 billion Continental Tire Co. plant in Sumter county. Officials said the new plant will be about 10 miles closer to Georgetown than to the Charleston port.