The money has been found to begin deepening the Charleston Harbor, but now even the projects fiercest advocate in Washington won't support the request.
Lindsey Graham has included $379,000 in a new spending bill. The money would be used to study dredging the Cooper River so the Port of Charleston can service larger ships expected to come through the Panama Canal. A deeper harbor is considered vital to the port's viability in the competitive Southeast market.
But Graham says the bill has too much unnecessary spending. "I will continue to fight for and support the Port of Charleston," he says. "But I cannot support this spending bill."
The port has been at the center of a political staring match between Democratic leaders and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). For years, DeMint has railed against earmarks, specific spending requests made by senators. It's been a convenient position because Graham would continue to fund South Carolina projects through the earmark process. When it came time to secure money for the port project, DeMint's support was considered necessary before other senators would allow Graham's request. DeMint refused, but it would appear Graham's pleading won out.
"I appreciate both the Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate leadership who worked with me on this provision," Graham says. "After my many meetings and discussions with them, I think they now understand and appreciate the tremendous importance of the port to our state, and ultimately, the nation."
It will now be up to the other members of the Senate to determine the value of deepening the port. With his "no" vote, Graham is saying it simply isn't important enough.
Ports Authority spokesman Byron Miller called the earmark a important recognition by the Senate — a good first step for what will be a long process of deepening the harbor. And he noted that is in larger part due to Graham's work in the Senate.