Graham pledges support for Port of Georgetown

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is all for deepening South Carolina's ports - both of them.

Tuesday, shortly after he made a public announcement that the Port of Charleston needed to be made 5 feet deeper, Graham met with officials from Georgetown to discuss the need to deepen the Georgetown Port.

"Funding for our South Carolina ports is critical to our state's economy, and the Georgetown Port is an important piece of our state's infrastructure. We must have the ability to export our goods and products around the globe. If we lose that ability, it will cost our state jobs," said Graham in a statement.

Once 27 feet deep, Georgetown's port is now 21 feet deep. The shallower depth limits the kind of ships the port can accommodate and therefore the kinds of businesses that can use it.

Representatives from the city of Georgetown, Georgetown County, ArcelorMittal steel company and the United Steel Workers Union were at the meeting to state their case for deepening the port.

All of those present agreed that dredging was needed, but there was no timeline offered for beginning the process, and no word on where the funds would come from or when they might appear.

"Right now it's all about jobs, jobs, jobs," said Jerry Oakley, the Georgetown County Council vice chairman. And he said he "can't think of anything that will have a greater immediate and secondary effect for employment" than dredging the Georgetown Port.

For example, more than 300 jobs at the ArcelorMittal steel mill would have security if the port were dredged, said James Sanderson, the president of the local United Steel Workers union and the organizer of the meeting.

The future of the mill "will depend on that port going forward ... whenever we do open back up," Sanderson said.

Oakley said the deepened port would not just lead to more jobs in Georgetown.

"Those jobs will go right up [U.S.] 521 and have a positive impact all the way up through Berkeley County," he said.

Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said dredging the port is "vital."

"We just have to get this done if we're going to remain a port city," Scoville said.

He said he has heard some people say the Georgetown Port should become a"recreational port."

But he said the Georgetown port's impact is "much greater than just the recreational-type fishing port."

"The Georgetown Port is just crucial to the economy of the city," he said.

Graham said he "will continue to work to ensure our ports receive the funding they need to remain competitive in the years ahead."

But Georgetown officials said Graham encouraged them at the meeting to get the support of all their congressmen and senators.

Oakley said U.S. Reps. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and Henry Brown, R-S.C., have given Georgetown indications of their support.

Sanderson said the S.C. delegation needs to ensure the future of its ports.

"The people of South Carolina have to make sure their voices are heard," he said. "Don't count on President Obama to put any kind of money into these ports. ... We have to depend on our own elected officials to do this."

Scoville said increased use of the port wouldn't just be good for the local economy.

"This is not just a local Georgetown thing," he said. "The whole Pee Dee would be impacted."

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