Charleston, SC, Now Boasts East Coast’s Deepest Harbor
CHARLESTON, S.C. — With the successful completion of a $580 million harbor-deepening project, Charleston Harbor is now the deepest harbor on the U.S. East Coast at 52 feet.
The new depth means the biggest cargo ships currently in service can now access the state’s port terminals at any time and at any tide.
“It is a truly historical moment to be celebrating this monumental achievement,” said South Carolina Ports President and CEO Barbara Melvin at a ceremony marking the end of the deepening project.
“This investment will bring economic success to South Carolina for generations to come,” she said.
The South Carolina Ports Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, partnered on the deepening project, with the $580 million infrastructure project cost being funded by state and federal dollars.
Deepening work began in 2018, thanks to $300 million the state set aside in 2012, followed by several infusions of federal funding. In 2019, Congress appropriated $138 million for the project, funding it to completion.
The Army Corps awarded five dredging contracts — three to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Corp., one to Norfolk Dredging Co. and one to Marinex Construction Inc. — and the work was completed in four years.
As for the project itself, the deepening began in the entrance channel of the harbor and continued through the harbor up to Ports Authority’s three container terminals.
The entrance channel was deepened to 54 feet to the largest of vessels coming and going to South Carolina Ports.
The 52-foot depth was achieved in Charleston Harbor up to both the authority’s Wando Welch Terminal and the Leatherman Terminal, and a 48-foot depth was achieved between the Leatherman Terminal and the North Charleston Terminal.
Turning basins were also widened in front of the Wando Welch Terminal and the Leatherman Terminal, enabling ships to easily pass one another and turn around without restrictions.
“Our deepening project was completed faster than any other project of its kind in the nation,” Melvin said.
“It required tremendous dedication, collaboration and creativity from everyone involved over the past decade,” Melvin said. “We had an amazing project partner — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District — as well as the dredging companies, environmental groups and business partners who worked alongside us,” she said.
Melvin also acknowledged Gov. Henry McMaster, the South Carolina Legislature, the state’s congressional delegation, and the Obama and Trump administrations for funding what she called “this transformational project.”
“Many great things come from humble beginnings, and Charleston Harbor is no exception,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Johannes, USACE, Charleston District, district engineer and commanding officer.
“In 1760, during the age of sail, the harbor averaged a depth of only 12 feet,” Johannes said. “Nearly 100 years later, in 1851, the harbor underwent its first deepening to 17 feet to accommodate larger, heavier steam vessels and the world’s first hydraulic dredge, the General Moultrie, was employed.
“Today, the Army Corps of Engineers, working with our great partners, has deepened the Charleston Harbor to a depth of 52 feet and the harbor can now safely accommodate the largest cargo ships in the world at any time, thus strengthening the economy of South Carolina and the nation,” he added.
A number of elected officials were also on hand to celebrate the completion of the project, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Reps. Nancy Mace and William Timmons, both Republicans, Gov. Henry McMaster, and a number of state officials.
During his remarks, Cylburn noted the bipartisan effort that saw the project through to completion, saying, “we worked collaboratively to secure the appropriations needed to fully fund this critical deepening project.”
“The Port of Charleston now has the deepest harbor on the East Coast, providing a significant competitive advantage for our state as we can handle bigger ships and more cargo. SC Ports are vital to the economy of South Carolina, and I am proud to support efforts to ensure that they continue to thrive,” he said.
McMaster said the deep harbor will give the state “a major edge in recruiting new jobs and investment while announcing to the world that this is the place to do business. This was the epitome of a team effort, involving members of our federal delegation — led by Sen. Lindsey Graham — the General Assembly and the Ports Authority leadership team.”
As for Graham, he was elated that the “historic day” had finally arrived.
“After years of effort, we have finally achieved our goal,” he said. “When we started this project in 2011, we understood that failure was simply not an option. The future of jobs, in every corner of our state and across a range of industries from manufacturing to agriculture to everything in between, hung in the balance.
“Today, we take time to remember the important milestones, look back at the hard work that brought us to this point, and celebrate our success in completing this project,” Graham continued. “I want to congratulate the South Carolina Ports Authority leadership and thank all the Republicans and Democrats in Washington and Columbia who worked together over the last 11 years to get this done. I want to thank the mayors and town councils who spoke out in support of the port. It was a total team effort. This completion ensures that the Port of Charleston will remain a cornerstone of South Carolina’s economy for decades to come.”