CHARLESTON, S.C. — For the past several weeks, James Phillips and Jeff Marshall have been up before dawn, taking their 24-foot research boat to a ramp on Charleston Harbor. They launch the craft, fire up their computers and begin the painstaking work of surveying areas along the harbor shipping channel.
The work by the Coastal Carolina University researchers is all part of a sheaf of studies needed for a planned $300 million deepening of the Charleston Harbor shipping channel. Their work is part of about $2 million in studies for the project recently awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Lt. Col. Ed Chamberlayne, the district engineer for the Charleston District, said the study is designed to identify any historic artifacts that might be in areas that would be deepened.
The survey is being conducted on either side of the existing shipping channel in the upper harbor. In a couple of weeks, Phillips and Marshall will survey areas farther offshore.
Deepening the channel from its present 45 feet would involve extending the entrance channel three miles farther out to sea. The research will also give an indication of what sort of rocks or sediments might be encountered in an area the corps has never dredged.
“It’s to get a good idea of where we might encounter rock,” Chamberlayne said last week while on the survey boat. “If that’s going to happen, we want to know how that will affect our cost estimates because dredging rock is a lot more expensive than dredging silt.”
The South Carolina State Ports Authority wants the channel deepened from its current 45 feet to 50 feet so the port can handle larger container ships when the Panama Canal expansion is opened to shipping traffic in 2015.