When it comes to deepening South Carolina's Port of Charleston, Sen. Lindsay Graham said Tuesday, "failure is not an option."
Graham was in the Upstate Tuesday to discuss the issues facing the Port of Charleston, if plans to deepen the harbor by 50 feet are not put into place to meet the new shipping requirements.
"Deepening the harbor is a must-do," said Graham. "The harbor is a lifeline to South Carolina and $350 million is needed to deepen the port. If we don't do this, we are saying large ships can not come here. It will be the end of the Port of Charleston and a blow to the economy. We would not be able to recover.
"Failure is not an option."
The S.C. Republican was a guest of Upstate Alliance, the public/private economic development group whose focus is to stimulate jobs and investment in the 10 counties in the Upstate, which asked Graham to speak during the organization's annual mid-year meeting at Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.
Joining Graham and Upstate Alliance president Hal Johnson at the podium was S.C. Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome.
Newsome made a few brief remarks about the challenges the port is facing and the opportunities that are ahead.
"The Upstate is vital to the Port of Charleston," Newsome said. "We welcomed and with 2014 coming we have a lot of work to do."
Graham said the port needs the ability to service ships 24 hours a day, seven days a week or the shipping business will go somewhere else. And with the reopening of the Panama Canal in 2014, after its expansion, the port is looking at entertaining more larges vessels, he said.
During his remarks to the press, Graham criticized President Barack Obama's neglect of the port system.
Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, worked to secure a $150,000 from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to conduct a study for the harbor deepening. The Obama administration did not agree on the importance of the state's project and did not include the money in the budget for it. Graham then tried to earmark the financing of the project last April, threatening to hold up the government process for the Obama's nominees in the Senate.
"It's not good government," Graham said. "It keeps our ports from being viable and competitive."
The ports in South Carolina are responsible for one-in-five jobs in South Carolina, the senator said. He said the expansion should be a national priority because it keeps the state's like South Carolina competitive internationally.
"It's a No. 1 priority for a Senator from South Carolina," Graham said. "It's a priority for the S.C. delegation, as a whole. "
Graham said there are three parts to the process: the study, the design and then construction. His plan, which is merit-based, requires buy-in.
The study and design work for the ports project will be shared 50-50 between the state and federal governments. The construction work would be paid 60 percent by the state and 40 percent by the federal government, Graham said.
Graham said it’s important that South Carolina not attempt to go it alone in improving the port.
“We don’t want South Carolina’s port to be improved with only state money when other ports are getting state and federal money,” Graham said.
Graham said the nearby Savannah port is already done with the study on its port and is now working on the design of their port.
"The Port of Charleston is the deepest port on the east coast," Graham said. "We have the natural port."
Graham said it is important that South Carolina have a plan in place going forward.
"If we don't have a plan in place by the end of the calendar year, shippers will sign contracts with other ports," Graham said.
"We have to have a plan in place that we can show them that one day Charleston will be deep enough for larger ships. We have about a year to get it right."
According to the Ports Authority, Port of Charleston is the eighth-busiest container port. Newsome told the audience that the Upstate has much to gain with the success of the port, with nearly half of the port's annual economic impact being directly related to the Upstate businesses.