Over the last several years, expansion of the Panama Canal has prompted authorities around the world to explore dredging their ports to accommodate larger ships. The Port of Charleston, South Carolina, is no exception. While the Port is a key economic driver for the state – with 260,000 related jobs and $45 billion in economic impact – the Cooper River, on which it sits, is a critical corridor for regional plants and wildlife.

So, when the issue of dredging the port was initially raised, many people in South Carolina were bracing for a fight between the Port and environmental advocates; until Liberty Fellows Elizabeth Hagood and Barbara Melvin stepped in. Hagood is Executive Director of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, and Melvin is SVP/Operations and Terminals with the South Carolina Ports Authority.

“The tacit code of Liberty Fellowship is maintaining trust with other Fellows. That’s where we began,” explains Elizabeth.

Despite an underlying adversarial history between the two organizations and ongoing litigation on other projects, Barbara and Elizabeth got to work leading the discussions. First, they identified shared goals: timely permitting of the Harbor Deepening Project and addressing the environmental impact on the area.

“To measure success, we had short-term and long-term goals. In the short term, the permitting process would not be drawn out with litigation. Looking at it long term, we worked together to solve a major problem and came away with a proactive, collaborative model with outcomes that propel South Carolina forward,” explains Elizabeth.

Blan Holman, a Liberty Fellow and the Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, also played an important role in building consensus within the environmental community.

On January 5, 2015, following several months of discussion led by Elizabeth and Barbara, the South Carolina Ports Authority, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Environmental Law Center announced their joint agreement for the Post45 Harbor Deepening Project that included a $5 million contribution by the Ports Authority to land conservation along the Cooper River Corridor. The agreement allowed for the timely progression of the Harbor Deepening Project while adding a new and significant partner to ongoing conservation efforts along this crucial corridor: the Port.

This article appeared in the 2015 Aspen Action Forum program.