The State Ports Authority is seeing a marked uptick in the number of ships calling on South Carolina ports, though it’s unknown how long that increase will last if the federal government pushes through a controversial dredging project on the Savannah River.
According to the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Matt Tomsic, the tonnage of cargo handled by the Charleston port increased 23.6% from last year, while the number of containers increased by 1.6%. Tomsic also reports that the port handled 10.4% more loaded containers in April compared to April 2011.
Those numbers are expected to get even higher with the addition of two new shipping lines at the Charleston port, according to Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome. Newsome told the Business Journal one of the lines will connect South Carolina with China and South Korea, while the second will run to countries in Asia and North Africa.
But while things are looking up for the state’s ports, the federal government may put an end to that progress by pushing through a major expansion of the Savannah port without South Carolina’s authorization, according to The State’s Sammy Fretwell:
[A judge] is trying to decide whether to uphold a water-quality approval permit the Corps and the Georgia Ports Authority need to move forward with the Savannah dredging. Conservation groups and a state agency have appealed the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s approval.
They say the dredging will lower water quality in the Savannah River, degrade a rare riverside marsh system and kill wildlife. Lawmakers say the Savannah deepening project could set back efforts to attract larger ships at Charleston, South Carolina’s main port.
In certain circumstances under U.S. law, however, the Corps can get around environmental rules that otherwise would apply for dredging marshy coastal areas, such as at Savannah. Part of the federal Clean Water Act allows for an exemption if a dredging project must be done to “maintain navigation,” such as at ports.
Charleston’s port is also scheduled to be deepened eventually, but the Army Corps of Engineers has it at a much lower priority than the Savannah port. A Corps spokesman told Fretwell the final decision on whether to go over South Carolina’s heads on the dredging issue would have to be made by the Secretary of the Army.
But at this point, it’s not like South Carolina’s relationship with the federal government could get any worse… Right?