2010-12-31 / Government / Neighborhood

Charleston Harbor must be deepened

By Wes Wolfe

The Port of Charleston, the flagship of the S.C. Ports Authority, is an economic engine for the state that doesn’t make many headlines, or the top of people’s agendas, outside of the State House or the Lowcountry itself. But, the dollars and jobs coming into South Carolina have a lot to do with the port. That’s why the deepening of Charleston Harbor and the money to pay for it has been a topic of concern among the S.C. Congressional delegation and state legislators.

In Congress, the battle has been to deepen the Harbor without attaching earmarks to legislation. Both the freshman–heavy members of the House and the two senators are trying to find new ways to both fund a study by the Army Corps of Engineers and get the job done. The Port of Savannah, a direct competitor with Charleston, is already a step ahead. The Port of Mobile is pushing hard for its share of business, as well.

The concern is the anticipated changes to the Panama Canal, expected to be completed by 2014. State Sen. Larry Grooms (R–Bonneau), and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham have both expressed concern that if the Harbor isn’t deepened to allow for the new traffic by then, South Carolina could deeply suffer economically.

That general theory received a twist recently as the Canal project has come under scrutiny. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the vice president of Panama told the U.S. ambassador last year that in two or three years, the entire project will be revealed to be a catastrophe. The problem lies with the company lined up to do it, Sacyr Vallehermoso SA, out of Spain. Rumors have been floated that the contract was swung to Sacyr not under the best of circumstances, and the company won’t be able to continue financially to see the project through. The Spanish government is believed to have backed Sacyr’s bid, but Spain is having its own economic problems.

Just before Christmas, however, Panama Canal Authority administrator Alberto Aleman Zubieta rebuffed these claims and said the project is going along as planned. He mentioned the diplomatic corps for the United States’ Bechtel, along embassies for an Italian firm, a Belgian company, and a company from Panama all provided advocacy for their people. He said the bidding process actually eliminated that pressure from the Authority, and it was able to make a reasoned choice.

Hackers should get jail time

The release of sensitive information by organizations like WikiLeaks has come under fire, and Rep. Chip Limehouse (R–Charleston) prefiled a bill to make such efforts illegal. Under his proposal, people who hack into confidential information or make an unauthorized release of information would be subject to 10 years in prison.

Limehouse said he was spurred to take action because of South Carolina’s military connections, and there isn’t a lot on the books when it comes to new crimes like those committed over the Internet.

Wolfe has been a writer for 11 publications in five states.

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