Charleston to be Deepest East Coast Harbor


Published Sep 14, 2015 7:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given its final substantive approval for the deepening of South Carolina’s Charleston harbor to accommodate post-Panamax container ships.

The harbor channel is to be deepened to 52 feet and the entrance channel to 54 feet, a move which would make the harbor the U.S. east coast’s deepest. Additionally, the port’s turning basins will be enlarged to accommodate post-Panamax vessels calling at South Carolina Port Authority's (SCPA) container terminals. 

With alliances among the major shipping lines firmly in place and 90 percent of new ocean vessels being built 7,500 TEUs or greater, shippers will become increasingly dependent on ports to offer deep and wide harbors for reliable access. The expansion of the Panama Canal and the raising of the Bayonne Bridge in New Jersey, both slated for completion next year, will also bring post-Panamax vessels to the south-east in greater frequency.

“By the end of the decade, we will achieve 52 feet of depth and Charleston will be the deepest harbor on the East Coast,” says Jim Newsome, SCPA president and CEO. “This depth advantage will provide our customers with 24-hour access to deepwater, a requirement for significant long-term volume growth in today's big-ship environment.”

The plans for the deepening will go to Congress with authorization expected early next year.

The preconstruction engineering and design (PED) phase of the project received federal funding in July and will begin in earnest with the signing of a design agreement between the Corps and SCPA. This federal investment will allow the Corps of Engineers to proceed with work in order to finalize the project design and produce construction contract documents. PED is the final major step in the technical work for deepening before dredging begins.

Efforts to deepen the Charleston Harbor began in 2011 in order to provide the depth necessary to handle post-Panamax vessel calls without tidal restriction. In 2012, the South Carolina General Assembly set aside the full estimated state share of the deepening construction costs, and the project was named was named one of President Obama's "We Can't Wait" initiatives.

“A deeper port in Charleston is common sense,” says 3rd District Congressman Jeff Duncan. “Once that work is complete, larger ships will be able to come through the Canal and deliver goods to and from Atlantic and Gulf ports along the Eastern seaboard. This will be one of the key economic drivers of the 21st century. The economic growth for the state of South Carolina will be substantial. 

“Deepening the Charleston Port provides enhances a critical artery to the American economic engine. People now will look to South Carolina as the critical entry point to the American business and consumer. If America is going to compete on the global stage, we need to be ready for this transformation. I am proud South Carolina will be home to the frontier of the cutting edge 21st century American economy.”

SCPA reported a nearly 15 percent fiscal year-over-year increase in container volume in 2015, handling 1.9 million TEU.  More than 187,000 jobs in South Carolina are tied to the Port, which has a $53 billion economic impact on the state each year.