- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - About 700 comments have been submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers about a proposal to deepen the Charleston Harbor shipping channel, many of them in favor of spending an estimated half billion dollars on the work, a Corps spokesman said Monday.

The Corps released a draft environmental impact statement on the project in October and the deadline for comments was Nov. 23.

“We received approximately 700 comments with a large number simply conveying support of the project,” Sean McBride, a spokesman for the Charleston District of the Corps, said in an email on Monday.

McBride said the agency is still reviewing the comments, which will be considered as the Corps puts together its final impact statement. A decision on whether to proceed with the work is expected next year.

The Corps’ tentative plan suggests deepening the inner harbor to 52 feet and extending the entrance channel and deepening it to 54 feet. The South Carolina Ports Authority wants the harbor deepened so the Port of Charleston can handle a new generation of larger container ships.

The price tag came in at an estimated $509 million, substantially higher than the $350 million that was originally suggested.

But the initial projection was based on deepening the inner harbor to only 50 feet instead of 52. In addition, more rock than expected was found below the area of the harbor entrance that needs to be deepened, adding to the cost.

The project cost would be shared between the federal government and the South Carolina State Ports Authority. The federal share is an estimated $166 million and the state share $343 million.

The 345-page draft environmental study determined that deepening the harbor is economically justified, but 280 acres of wetlands would be degraded with higher salinity levels as a result the deeper channel.

The impact would be offset by the Ports Authority preserving land near the South Carolina coast and giving it to the U.S. Forest Service.

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