By Clayton Stairs
Congressman Tom Rice, the U.S. representative for South Carolina's 7th congressional district, met with officials from the Georgetown County Economic Development Alliance on Thursday at Lands End Restaurant.
The Port of Georgetown and dredging of the channel leading to the port were the main topics of discussion for the brief meeting.
Also on hand were U.S. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster and officials from local and county governments.
Rice and Shuster said they would do everything they could to help bring about dredging of the port channel.
Tim Tilley, chairman of the Georgetown County Economic Development Alliance and the Alliance's Port Dredging Task Force, welcomed the congressmen and introduced some of the 40-plus people who attended the meeting.
He explained that the Georgetown port, which has silted in to about 17 or 18 feet in places, is authorized for a 27-foot depth.
But there is not federal funding for dredging to that depth since the requirement is based on tonnage.
And since the dredging has not taken place, the port cannot receive adequate tonnage for funding.
"This is a perfect of example of what is wrong with our ability to improve infrastructure," Shuster said. "It is the old case of the chicken and the egg."
The channel runs 14 miles from Winyah Bay to the Atlantic Ocean and is significantly below the current million-ton threshold to ensure maintenance dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Tilly said if the port channel were dredged it would help existing industries and promote new industry in Georgetown and surrounding areas.
He used the example of the steel mill in Georgetown, which receives 45 percent of its raw material to make steel from overseas through the port at Wilmington, N.C.
It is then trucked to the mill in Georgetown, 20 tons at a time, Mat Mathew, operations manager of the steel mill, said during the meeting.
He added that shipping the material directly to Georgetown would save a lot in costs.
Rice and Shuster said they understand the situation and they will look into solutions when they go back to Washington, D.C.
Rice added that people interested in dredging of the port channel and other projects should contact their representatives regularly.
"If you want us involved in economic development projects we want to know about it," Rice said.
He and Shuster said the U.S. House will produce a water bill, which is where funding is slated for ports
They said they will push for a merit-based allocation of limited funds in that bill.