Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A Milestone Celebration: Charleston Harbor Becomes Deepest Port on the East Coast

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Charleston Harbor is now the deepest port on the East Coast at 52 feet, a milestone definitely worth celebrating.

On Dec. 5, 2022, Gov. Henry McMaster, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Tim Scott, Rep. Nancy Mace, state leaders, representatives from the South Carolina Ports Authority, and other partner agencies who helped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, make this project a reality gathered to celebrate the last dredged scoop of sediment in the deepening construction.

Graham, who pulled the lever starting the deepening construction in 2018 in another milestone celebration, stood onstage once again, but this time to help commemorate its completion. Pulling the same lever, Graham made history for South Carolina.

“It is a truly historical moment to be celebrating this monumental achievement. Charleston Harbor has been deepened to 52 feet,” said Barbara Melvin, CEO and president of the SCPA. “With the deepest harbor on the East Coast, we can efficiently work mega container ships at any tide. This investment will bring economic success to South Carolina for generations to come.”

Beginning in 2011, the $580 million Post 45 Harbor Deepening Project aimed to deepen Charleston Harbor from 45 feet to 52 feet. The additional depth allows for the largest fully loaded container ships in the world to call on the port, no matter the tide. With the completion of the project, Charleston is now seeing record-breaking levels of cargo travelling through its port, and new businesses are taking advantage of the depth.

“Many great things come from humble beginnings, and Charleston Harbor is no exception. In 1760, during the age of sail, the harbor averaged a depth of only 12 feet,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Johannes, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District. “Today, the Army Corps of Engineers, working with our great partners, has deepened Charleston Harbor to a depth of 52 feet and the harbor can now safely accommodate the largest cargo ships in the world at any time, thus strengthening the economy of South Carolina and the nation.”

Over 250 years, Charleston harbor was deepened eight times to accommodate the world’s rapidly growing cargo vessels.

“South Carolina can now proudly say that we have the deepest harbor on the East Coast,” said McMaster. “The 52-foot depth gives South Carolina a major edge in recruiting new jobs and investment while announcing to the world that this is the place to do business.”

Throughout the course of the Post 45 project, a wide array of new businesses moved to South Carolina to benefit from this depth. Less than 50 miles from the Port of Charleston, a new 624-acre industrial campus opened with a Walmart distribution facility. Major auto manufacturers like Volvo, BMW and Mercedes located their new electric vehicle production plants in the state. The growth is not only in large corporations, as a host of small businesses who support the growing port have opened here.

The SCPA is one of the largest economic drivers in the state, providing over $60 billion in statewide economic impact. More than one in 10 jobs in the state are directly related to port activities. The port has set record numbers of imports nearly every month for the past two years and recently opened the new state-of-the-art Hugh K. Leatherman terminal in 2021.

The completion of the deepening allows for the largest ships in the world to visit no matter their load, the tide, or the time of day. Before the project was entirely complete however, records for the largest ships to visit Charleston were already being broken when conditions allowed. First to break the record was the CMA-CGM Marco Polo in May 2021, followed by the COSCO Camellia in March 2022. In September of the same year, with a draft of 48 feet, 11 inches, the MSC Rayshmi visited Charleston Harbor, officially taking the title as the largest ship to ever visit.

The USACE team worked tirelessly to complete the project on time and on budget and it was the first large navigation project in the nation to be completed under the Corps’ streamlined civil works planning process. The team was comprised of engineers, navigation specialists, scientists, economists, planners and project managers from across USACE representing the best and the brightest in their fields. The deepening occurred over the course of seven district commanders and three of them  returned to join Johannes for the celebration.

Elected leaders, including Sen. Graham and his staff and Melvin, frequently attended meetings and updates with stakeholders. Their attendance was driven by a collective understanding this project had to be completed.

“When we started this project in 2011, we understood that failure was simply not an option,” said Graham. “The future of jobs, in every corner of our state and across a range of industries from manufacturing to agriculture to everything in between, hung in the balance. Today, we take time to remember the important milestones, look back at the hard work that brought us to this point, and celebrate our success in completing this project.”

The project finished the way it started a decade ago, with a radio call to the dredge operator.

Barbara Melvin: “Clamshell Dredge 58, do you copy?”

Dredge Operator: “This is Clamshell Dredge 58, go ahead.”

Melvin: “It’s time to finish what we started.”

Operator: “10-4, standing by.”

Sen. Graham: “Clamshell Dredge 58, this is Senator Graham, let’s do it. Officially finish 52 feet in the Charleston Harbor.”

It was now official. At 52 feet, Charleston Harbor is now the deepest port on the East Coast. Truly a milestone.

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