Ocean dredge material might have little value to the federal government, but it will save the State Ports Authority $40 million that would otherwise go to a corporate bidder.

Officials announced Monday that the U.S. Department of the Interior will let the SPA bring in dredge material at no cost from an offshore site to use in building its new container terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston. The project demands as much as 5 million cubic yards of fill for 57 acres.

The fill would cost an estimated $40 million if bid out, the SPA estimated. The savings, officials think, could be as much as one-tenth of the cost of the first phase of terminal construction.

"Common sense prevailed at the federal level," said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who pushed the agreement. "We need to celebrate it because it doesn't happen a whole lot."

The Ocean Dredged Material Disposal Site, which is about seven miles from Charleston Harbor's entrance, has been in continuous use since 1896. When the harbor is maintained to handle ship traffic, most dredge material removed in the process winds up at the disposal site.

The material does not qualify for use in beach nourishment projects, according to port officials, and removing it for use at the new North Charleston terminal will extend the site's century-old life.

Graham said port officials asked for help from him and from U.S. Rep. Henry Brown a year ago. Graham's first thought: "Why can't I do this by a phone call?"

Conflicting regulations, one requiring competitive bids and another governing dredge material disposal, complicated the matter, he said. He finally received word from the Interior Department to proceed Monday morning.

SPA Chairman David Posek said fill for the new terminal will initially come from the SPA's Daniel Island dredge material site but that 80 percent of total fill will originate from the offshore location.

The agency will begin drawing from the ocean disposal site next year and have committed to transporting 75 percent of the fill on barges to reduce truck emissions.

The terminal is expected to be complete in 2013.

Both Posek and Graham said the agreement would make terminal construction faster and cheaper.