Breaking news: Charleston gets $4.2 million from federal government for harbor deepening study

The Charleston Post and Courier is reporting:

The federal spending plan approved by the U.S. House today includes some money for the Port of Charleston, under a provision proposed earlier in the Senate by S.C. Republican Lindsey Graham.

The $4.2 million for Charleston’s harbor deepening study will help ensure no time is lost on the lengthy process. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it could take 5 years and about $20 million to study the plan and decide if it’s feasible and in the national interest.

The study began in June and had already been advance-funded by the State Ports Authority for about the first two years. The availability of the $4.2 million in federal funds preserves the SPA’s ability to step in with advance funding again, should federal funds be unavailable further along in the study period.

This definitely will heat up the funding competition between Savannah and Charleston for federal funds for dredging. Savannah is far ahead of Charleston in terms of studies and permits, but the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project has been embroiled in any number of controversies.

And, as the Post and Courier piece notes, the dredging in Charleston would “only” cost $300 million as opposed to the $600 million-ish that dredging the long Savannah River channel would cost.

Graham’s proposal in today’s funding measure might ultimately bring some clarity to the various competing port projects on the East Coast:

A provision Graham included in the spending bill requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate ports with the goal of developing a national plan to deal with larger container ships. Such ships will become more common on the East Coast when an expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014.

“What I’m trying to do is create a merit-based vision,” Graham said Friday afternoon. “We’ve got issues to overcome, but this is a breakthrough.”

Does this qualify as an “earmark”?

UPDATE: More from the AP:

“It’s a big step on a long journey,” [Sen. Graham] told reporters by telephone from Washington, adding the account could be a model for harbor projects in the future.

As part of the bill, the corps is being given six months to study all ports on the East Coast to determine how they will be affected by the canal widening.

“I’m trying to create a merit-based system and I’m confident that with the natural attributes of Charleston – a deep water port with very wide access and close to the Atlantic Ocean – we’re going to be very competitive,” he said.

[. . .]Graham said federal money must be spent with the national interest in mind.

“I’m not capable of creating legislation in the environment in which we live that only helps Charleston and no one else,” he said. “I’m not trying to create an environment to shut one port down. That’s just not possible up here and it’s not my desire. My desire from a national point of view is to make sure taxpayer dollars are invested wisely.”