The U.S. House of Representatives today overwhelmingly passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act which could mean money which means money could be coming for the much needed dredging of channel leading to the Port of Georgetown.
The vote today by the House was the first since Congress abandoned the policy of using earmarks and a bill that U.S. Rep. Tom Rice says is good for South Carolina’s ports.
He told the Associated Press it was a “historic” vote since the bill was the first test of the new allocation system after earmarks.
The measure authorizes the Appropriations Committee to allocate money for harbor projects from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that brings in $1.8 billion a year from port users. The Senate earlier passed its own version of the bill.
The House version includes a provision Rice helped insert to help smaller ports like Georgetown. For the next two fiscal years, it allocates 10 percent of Trust Fund expenditures for improvements at ports handling less than 1 million tons of cargo annually.
Currently, such smaller ports can’t get the money.
“Georgetown is caught in a Catch 22,” said Rice, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “At one time, Georgetown had more than a million tons of cargo, which would have allowed them to use harbor maintenance funds,” he said. “But when the steel mill closed down temporarily, they lost their tonnage and the river silted in. They couldn’t get it dredged until they got the tonnage back up, and they couldn’t get the tonnage back up until they got it dredged.”
That dredging should cost about $30 million and Rice said he will make his case to the Corps of Engineers that the project is worthwhile once the bill is passed. Currently Georgetown Steel brings in ore by ship through Wilmington and then by rail to Georgetown. That ore could be brought in locally by ship if the port were dredged.
The act authorizes spending on 26 waterway and harbor improvement projects nationwide. They are not earmarks because they were not inserted by individual members of Congress.
The bill allows engineering and construction on projects receiving final Corps approval after the act is approved to move forward using local or state funds. Port agencies then can later apply for federal reimbursement.
Currently, only about half the money raised by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund each year goes to water projects. The bill requires that by 2020, 80 percent of the money be used for such projects.
The Post and Courier contributed to this report