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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Looking Ahead at Charleston's Port Deepening: A Panel Discussion

It’s often difficult to know with certainty how to place events into a proper perspective. A case in point is the proposed deepening of the Charleston ship channel from its present control depth to 50 feet. On the one hand Charleston has always been a fine harbor and commerce by sea has always been central to the human economy. So on the face of it you might think that making the rather narrow ship channel a mere 4% deeper would have minimal adverse effects. Further more if it helps commerce this might be enough to persuade you. As Sierrans we appreciate that most actions, when viewed narrowly can seem a good idea. After all who has not been tempted for a second helping at the supper table without consideration of the consequences. But it’s in our Sierran nature to discipline ourselves to take a broader view and to understand as many outcomes as possible for our public actions. You might also think that its all well and good look at both sides carefully but who has the time? And so, the Robert Lunz Group has gone to some effort to recruit a panel of experts to discuss with you various aspects of port deepening project. Our panel will include Dana Beach, Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation, Lt Col Edward Chamberlayne USACE Charleston District Commander, Jim Newsome Chairman and CEO of SC State Ports Authority and Steve Willis

from the Georgia Sierra Club. The discussion will be led by Steve Eames of the Coastal Conservation League. Here are some thoughts that occur to me and that I have read about. What happens if we do not deepen the channel? Will our transshipment tonnage drop grow or stay the same? Does EVERY port in the South East US have to be dug to the Panamax level? Its worth pointing out that deepening the Savannah River ship channel requires a bit shy of 40 miles of deepening compared to well under 10 miles for Charleston. There are substantial environmental risks to deepening the Savannah river. What about such risks for Charleston’s harbor? I want fishers of all ages to continue to harvest and safely consume fish, crabs and shrimp from our harbor. I trust that the waters of the harbor will remain swimmable throughout, that the manatees and dolphins remain and that the sturgeon will return. I hope that the historic forts of the harbor are not adversely impacted and I would like for Crab Bank to remain intact as a viable sea bird rookery whatever the outcome. There is plenty of intriguing political and legal activity going on as well. So watch the P&C daily for news, check out the background info on the USACE Project 45 web site, and plan to bring your thoughts and questions to ask the experts on Thursday April 5, 2012 to listen.

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