South Carolina leaders have announced that state funding of maintenance dredging for the Port of Georgetown has been approved as part of its $18 million budget.

The total cost of the project, which will increase the depth of the channel to 27 feet, is $33.5 million and the balance of the funding will come from federal and local funds, as well as the state’s Ports Authority.

Sen. Yancey McGill, speaking on behalf of Sen. Ray Cleary, Rep. Carl Anderson, and Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, announced June 16 that the state’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget included $5 million for the dredging project and promises $2.6 million in each of the next five years.

He added that the dredging project will take four years and port renovations are being planned as well.

McGill said, “I want to express my appreciation for their cooperation and assistance to the Georgetown County Council, the City of Georgetown, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Tim Scott, Rep. Jim Clyburn, Rep. Tom Rice, Sen. Hugh Leatherman, Jim Newsome and the South Carolina Ports Authority, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Natural Resources, and Tim Tilley, Vida Miller, [Georgetown County Administrator] Sel Hemingway, Jim Jerow and Mayor [Jack] Scoville of the Georgetown Dredging Task Force.

“To secure new capital investment and job creation, we must grow and invest in our economy. This project will promote both commerce and tourism in our state.

“Finally, the Charleston and Georgetown state ports are moving forward for dredging.”

Tilley, chair of the Task Force, said he is proud of the local legislative delegation and the General Assembly for taking this big step toward making the dredging project a reality.

“This is a step in the process required for us to obtain complete funding for the port dredging,” Tilley said.

“I’m very excited that the state, through our local delegation, has shown their willingness to protect this state asset.”

He said the next steps in the process involve obtaining federal funding and local funding.

Earlier this month, the federal government passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) with language that will make it easier for small ports like Georgetown to receive funding.

Rice, who was instrumental in the passing of the WRRDA, said he applauds state leaders for their hard work on South Carolina’s budget and recognizing the economic potential of the Georgetown Port.

“This port is key to maintaining our state’s competitiveness. By funding the dredging of this canal, South Carolina has sent a clear signal to our federal appropriators – the Palmetto State is serious about deepening the Georgetown Port and furthering its competitive edge,” Rice said.

For the local portion of the project funding, Georgetown County leaders have appointed a commission to develop a referendum question for a one-cent Capital Projects Sales Tax.

One of the five projects for the sales tax funds will be the $6 million local portion of the dredging project funding.

Hemingway, who has been leading the Capital Sales Tax Commission, said the state approving funding for the project is very good news.

“We want to thank our local delegation for their efforts in making this appropriation possible,” he said.

“We look forward to having similar results from the federal delegation so we can move the project forward and complete dredging as soon as possible.”

Hemingway pointed out that the local contribution, which could be handled by the one-cent sales tax over four years, is necessary for everything to fall in place for dredging.

Tilley urged voters to say “yes” to the one-cent sales tax in November.

“In my opinion, the sales tax mechanism becomes a very attractive option for us since the revenue stream is from sales tax and visitors to the area will help pay for it,” Tilley said.

“I believe it is a wise choice to fund port dredging through the capital projects referendum.”

By Clayton Stairs