MOUNT PLEASANT — U.S. ports face a big threat from Cuba and China if U.S. shipping channels aren't deepened by the time the Panama Canal is widened.
That's according to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who spoke to Republicans in Mount Pleasant Monday.
"If we don't get this right, China is working with Cuba to build a big port in Cuba that could intercept the traffic coming through the Panama Canal, if we don't get our act together," Graham said.
Ports should compete for funding, Graham said, rather than the current system of earmark funding. Charleston's rival port in Savannah is far ahead in the harbor-deepening race, and much of its planning has been funded through that earmark process.
"Now is the time to abandon earmarking and replace it with a vision that encompasses all ports, not just Charleston," Graham said.
Graham said the U.S. could modernize port infrastructure, inland and coastal all over the country, for about $10 billion.
The senator said he's seeking support for his overhaul proposal from Democrats and Republicans, but that going forward, port expansion money should require competition for scarce dollars.
"The good news for Charleston is that if we have to compete for funding, we will do fine because we are very efficient and God has dealt us a good hand when it comes to our harbor," he said.
Charleston has plans to deepen its shipping channel by 2020. That's actually four years earlier than previous estimates.
Savannah, however, has plans to begin its harbor deepening project in the spring, though the effort has been beset by legal challenges from South Carolina interests.
Charleston ranked 13th in the U.S. in container traffic in 2011, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. Savannah was No. 4 during the same time period.