Harbor Deepening - SC Ports Authority

Harbor Deepening

Home > Facilities > Port Expansion > Harbor Deepening

Charleston Harbor has been a key economic driver for more than 300 years, and ongoing work to deepen the harbor will ensure South Carolina’s economic success in the future.

The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is on track to achieve a 52-foot depth in 2021 — yielding the deepest harbor on the East Coast — up from the current 45-foot depth. The entrance channel is also being deepened to 54 feet, up from 47 feet.

The additional seven feet of depth in Charleston Harbor will enable post-Panamax vessels to call on the Port of Charleston any time of day, regardless of tides. The 52-foot depth will ensure S.C. Ports can handle the growing number of large, cargo-laden vessels calling on Charleston.

The significant infrastructure enhancement will greatly increase the harbor’s capabilities and SC Ports’ competitiveness in the era of big ships, further connecting South Carolina to global markets.

Project history

The project began in 2011 with a study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which determined a federal interest in the deepening of Charleston Harbor and cited the project as the best value for scarce public infrastructure dollars.

Charleston Harbor Deepening has since progressed more quickly than any federal deepening project to date, with tremendous support by elected officials on local, state and federal levels, as well as from business leaders and the community.

In 2012, the SC General Assembly set aside $300 million, the full estimated state share of the deepening construction costs. This decision to designate dollars for the project was invaluable in showing the federal government that South Carolina is fully invested in the project; the deepening project was named one of President Obama’s We Can’t Wait initiatives.

The project received its Chiefs Report from the Army Corps of Engineers in September 2015, greenlighting it to move forward. The deepening initiative secured Congressional authorization in December 2016 and received the critical “new start” designation in May 2017.

Project funding

The deepening project, projected to cost $558 million, is funded through state and federal dollars.

The project secured the first round of federal appropriations in fiscal year 2017 with $17.5 million in the Army Corps of Engineers’ work plan. The Army Corps then allocated $49 million in fiscal year 2018 and $41.4 million in fiscal year 2019 for a total of $108 million of the federal share thus far.

The deepening project then achieved a major milestone in March 2019 when President Donald Trump included $138 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget, signifying that the project is funded to completion. The House and Senate included the recommended $138 million funding in the Fiscal year 2020 Energy and Water Appropriations bills, which was signed into law in December 2019.

Project progress

Deepening work is well underway and progressing toward a 52-foot depth in 2021.

In fall 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District awarded the first two construction contracts of $47 million and $214 million to Great Lakes Dredging Co. to deepen the Entrance Channel to 54 feet. Dredging work began in February 2018.

In August 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District awarded the third dredging construction contract of $124 million to Norfolk Dredging Co. This will create a 52-foot depth from the Lower Harbor up Wando River to Wando Welch Terminal. Work also involves widening the turning basin of the Wando River from 1,400 feet to 1,650 feet, allowing two 14,000-TEU-and-above ships to easily pass one another and turn around near the Wando Welch Terminal without restrictions.

Future contracts will involve achieving a 52-foot depth from Charleston Harbor up the Cooper River to the future Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal in North Charleston, set to open in 2021, and then dredge to a 48-foot depth from the Leatherman terminal to the North Charleston Terminal.