Trump requests $138 million for SC ports project

The Trump administration is asking Congress for $138 million to dredge the floor of the Charleston Harbor — the first time it has mentioned the high-priority South Carolina project by name in its annual federal budget request.

South Carolina needs an estimated total cost of $558 million to finish the project. The state already has contributed $300 million of its own money, plus a $50 million loan.

If Congress gives the project the full $138 million being requested, that puts the project close to the target sum for completion.

Since efforts first began to deepen the Charleston Harbor to 52 feet — to allow larger vessels into the Charleston Port — the project was only eligible to receive federal funding through a specific pot of money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget.

This was due to the fact that the Army Corps was relying on an old formula, known as the “benefit/cost ratio,” to determine how much money the project should receive.

Last year, the South Carolina Ports Authority requested the Army Corps recalculate the benefit/cost ratio, arguing the original formula relied on outdated information.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and both of the state’s Republican U.S. senators — Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott — bolstered the Ports Authority’s pleas with intense lobbying of President Donald Trump’s senior staff, including his then-budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a former U.S. congressman representing South Carolina’s 5th District. Mulvaney is now Trump’s acting chief of staff.

“I spoke to Mick Mulvaney. I spoke to (former White House Chief of Staff John) Kelly twice, once on the phone and also face-to-face yesterday, and I was prepared to ask for a meeting with the president and have asked if that’s necessary,” McMaster told McClatchy at the time.

The Army Corps ultimately agreed to perform the recalculation. Once it was complete, the harbor deepening project suddenly met the threshold to qualify for inclusion in the president’s annual budget request to Congress.

Congress can only consider Army Corps projects for full or partial funding that are mentioned by name in the president’s budget blueprint.

“The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is a strategic priority for South Carolina, and it will be a driver of economic development across our state and region well into the future,” said Jim Newsome, S.C. Ports Authority president and CEO, in a statement Tuesday, celebrating the budget request.