About 40 members of local labor unions, including the International Longshoremen’s Association that serves the port, attended the event by direct invitation from the White House, and made up the largest collective group amongst the 240 attendees.
The Port of Charleston and other U.S. ports need to accommodate newer freight vessels that can carry up to three times the cargo of ordinary freighters, Biden said.
Being dredged to a depth of 50 feet will allow the Port of Charleston at all times to accommodate these high-cargo vessels, which are expected to increase in trade use following expansion of the Panama Canal, scheduled for completion in 2014.
The port is currently of a 45-foot depth, and can only accommodate “post-Panamax” vessels at high tide.
The project is still a candidate for federal funding; if realized, the dredging could be completed by 2019.
Shipments to the Port of Charleston could double by 2025, Biden said, and double again in 2040, if the dredging is done.
“Continuing investment here in Charleston is a big win for everybody.”
The proposed project has bipartisan praise, too. Both the Democrat (Rep. Jim Clyburn) and Republican (Rep. Mark Sanford) representing the Charleston region in Congress attended to show support for dredging, as did Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and Charleston’s Democrat-supporting Mayor Joe Riley.
All spoke before the vice president arrived.
Deepening the port would have a $47 billion impact on South Carolina’s economy, Haley said. “We can’t let it fail.”
Despite this bipartisan support from local officials, political division in Washington, D.C. leaves funding at a standstill currently.
“Failure to … dredge the Port of Charleston would be a failure of enterprise,” Clyburn said.
Last year the state legislature set aside $300 million to cover most, if not all, of the dredging cost, should the federal government fail to provide funding.
The local port is ideal in merit for the dredging, Biden said, citing its nine-percent growth in trade in just the last year as example.
“The longshoremen deserve a lot of credit” for this success, he said, extending personal thanks to Ken Riley, a national vice president of ILA and president of its local 1422 that works at the Port of Charleston.
Improvements to Charleston’s and other ports would have impact on many industries, too, said Biden, and even aid trade balance.
“Manufacturing is coming back,” he said, crediting the growth to corporations’ recognition that “American workers are three times more productive than Chinese workers.”
That industry trend could be seen locally, as well, the vice president said. “South Carolina has the finest technical education system in the world,” Biden stated, implying that improvements to the Port of Charleston could attract more businesses to the area that require skilled labor. “It’s all about jobs.”
Labor unions present at the by-invite-only event included ILA, IBEW, Plumbers & Pipefitters, CWA and USW, and representatives of the state AFL-CIO also attended.
Others invited to the event included local and state officials and members of Charleston’s Chamber of Commerce.