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Georgetown Port dredging, offshore drilling discussed at Breakfast Briefings meeting

  • Tuesday, January 14, 2014

  • Updated Friday, January 17, 2014 1:56 pm

Georgetown Port dredging and offshore drilling were topics discussed at a Breakfast Briefings meeting this week.

The Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce hosted its monthly Breakfast Briefings meeting Monday morning at Quality Inn & Suites in Georgetown.

The featured speaker, Bill Crowther, executive director for the Alliance for Economic Development for Georgetown County, discussed a bill in Congress that should help the Port of Georgetown receive needed dredging.

“This thing is not done yet,” Crowther said. “It is moving forward.”

He told the attendees of the meeting that there are actually two different bills that have passed separately in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

The House version of the bill, called the Water Resources Reform Development Act (WRRDA) had some structural changes from the Senate version, called the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which doesn’t have the language that would help small ports like the one in Georgetown.

“Everyone I’ve talked to said they are confident that the language from the House bill will remain intact, the specific language that will help the Georgetown port,” Crowther said.

He added that both bills passed with a large margin.

And he is confident that the final bill, on which a conference committee made up of Senate and House members will decide, will also pass both chambers and be signed by the President.

Crowther said it is fortunate that U.S. Rep. Tom Rice and U.S. Rep. Tom Shuster, who both have the interests of the Georgetown area at heart, are on the conference committee.

Points Crowther made during the meeting on this topic included:

Maintenance money for ports comes from a federal trust fund, with states providing a share as well. Obtaining the federal money often is a condition for distribution of the state share.

In the past, the federal money generally was distributed from the trust fund through specific project earmarks obtained by the local congressman. However, that came to an end with the adoption of the House anti-earmark rule in 2010.

The elimination of earmarks has created a bottleneck in the trust fund.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which receives the money for port maintenance projects, has claimed that it lacks authority to request or allocate trust fund money. As a result, port maintenance has suffered nationwide.

Both WRRDA and the pending water appropriations bills seek to fix this problem by directing the Corps to adopt new procedures for allocation of trust fund money. All of the pending legislation would direct more funding for small ports. The precise details are still being worked out, but it appears that within the next few weeks we will have new legislation that greatly enhances the prospects for funding much-needed maintenance at Georgetown and other small ports

Seismic testing

Crowther also talked about the need for seismic testing off the coast of South Carolina, which could lead to oil drilling and a boost to the local economy.

He said he does not agree that environmentalists have said they are against seismic testing and any kind of drilling off our coast.

“The economic impact of what it could do for South Carolina and North Carolina far outweighs the risks,” Crowther said.

“It could solve all of our infrastructure problems very quickly.”

He said seismic testing involves dragging sonar devices behind a ship, which bounce sound waves off the bottom and determines what is below.

He also said that the federal government would lease a section of ocean about 10 miles off shore and revenue would be shared — 50 percent for the federal government, 37.5 percent for the state and 12.5 percent for a reserve fund.

He said that this could be very good for the local port and the local economy.

He used as an example Port Fourchon, a formerly small port in Louisiana that handles about 90 percent of the oil and gas for the Gulf Coast since drilling started there.

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