Charleston Harbor has been a key economic driver for more than 300 years. With the deepest water in its competitive region today, Charleston offers a maintained harbor of -45 feet (13.7 meters) of depth at mean low tide throughout the main shipping channel and -47 feet (14.3 m) in the entrance channel. A five to six foot tidal lift provides even deeper access for several hours during the day, enabling Charleston to serve 20 post-Panamax vessel calls each week.
To meet the depth requirements of the growing number of large vessels calling Charleston, a next-generation harbor deepening project is underway that will make Charleston the deepest harbor on the East Coast. The project began in 2011 when a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) study determined a federal interest in the deepening of Charleston Harbor and cited the project as the best value for scarce public dollars.
Charleston Harbor Deepening has progressed more quickly than any federal deepening project to date, with tremendous support by elected officials on all levels – local, state and federal – as well as 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, and the project was named one of President Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” initiatives.
The project received its Chief’s Report in September 2015, was authorized by Congress in December of 2016, and received appropriations in the FY17 Army Corps of Engineers work plan and the critical “new start” designation in May 2017.
In the fall of 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District awarded the first two construction contracts of $47 million and $213 million to deepen the Entrance Channel. Dredging began in February 2018, and with a channel depth of 52 feet and entrance channel depth of 54 feet, as well as enlarged turning basins, Charleston will be the deepest harbor on the East Coast.