by Paul Bowers
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden paid a visit to the Port of Charleston's Columbus Street terminal today, touting the importance of infrastructure funding as the city and state seek federal funds for a $350 million harbor-deepening project.
"We're way behind the rest of the world. That's why you guys asked the Army Corps of Engineers to study deepening the port to 50 feet," Biden said. "You should never preempt a study, but I can tell you what the study is going to say: You'd better deepen it to 50 feet. It better happen, or guess what? You're going to be left behind, as far advanced as you are, because other ports on the East Coast are going ahead and doing it. Baltimore has already done it. It's going to happen."
The Army Corps of Engineers is considering a proposed dredging project off the coast of Charleston as ports around the world prepare for new, larger Panamax ships that will be sailing into harbors after a deepening of the Panama Canal is completed. Biden's visit to Charleston came between trips to ports in Baltimore, Md., and Savannah, Ga., where he also planned to speak on infrastructure and port issues.
Political leaders at the press conference included Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Biden called infrastructure improvement an issue that "doesn't have a partisan bone in its body."
There was plenty of time for speeches as the crowd waited hours for the vice president to appear. Riley called the deepening project "essential." Sanford called the Port of Charleston "the most economical port" on the East Coast. And Clyburn claimed a bit of responsibility for convincing President Barack Obama to include Charleston on his list of port-deepening priorities in 2012. He said that during a meeting at the White House, he told the president, "Of all the things that he could do to show me some love, it would be to put this project in the budget."
In his speech, Biden praised South Carolina's technical colleges as attractive to new business. "You have the best technical community college system in the country here," Biden said. "People are going to want to come. But folks, you've got to have the infrastructure."
Biden's speech was slim on specifics, but he did mention progress was being made on a new trans-Pacific trade partnership with Asian countries. He also did some cheerleading for the American worker, calling the 21st century "the American century" and stating that manufacturing was coming back to U.S. shores.
"This port now supports over 280,000 jobs," Biden said. "Good, decent middle-class jobs you can raise a family on. Good, decent middle-class jobs you don't have to have a Ph.D., you don't have to be out there and have a college degree from a prestigious school. Good, decent jobs, man. That's what built this state. That's what built this country."