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‘Most decisive 5 years’ on tap for Port of Charleston

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The 5,550-TEU containership Monte Rosa, which called on the Wando Welch Terminal in October, is one example of the post-Panamax ships that are already calling on the port. Once the Panama Canal expansion is complete, these massive ships are expected to flood East Coast ports. (Photo/Liz Segrist)The 5,550-TEU containership Monte Rosa, which called on the Wando Welch Terminal in October, is one example of the post-Panamax ships that are already calling on the port. Once the Panama Canal expansion is complete, these massive ships are expected to flood East Coast ports. (Photo/Liz Segrist)

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published Sept. 18, 2015

S.C. State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said the Port of Charleston has made a comeback in cargo and earnings from levels seen during the recession.

Revenue is up 75% at $196 million, pier containers are up 48% at 1.095 million and operating earnings are up 357% at $30 million for fiscal year 2015, compared with fiscal 2010.

Board votes:

The ports authority unanimously approved several contracts and two land agreements during the board meeting Wednesday.

  • Eck Supply Co. of North Charleston was awarded a $206,000 contract to install eight new refrigerated container racks at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant. This will create 240 new refrigerated container receptacles at the terminal, as each rack has 30 electrical outlets. Construction is set to start in February.
  • Konecranes Port Service N.A. secured a $5.13 million contract to replace the drives and control systems on 19 rubber-tired gantry cranes at the North Charleston Terminal, the Wando Welch Terminal and the S.C. Inland Port in Greer.
  • S&ME Inc. of Mount Pleasant won a $1.2 million contract for additional improvement work to the 1970s-era Wando Welch Terminal. The extensive renovations are designed to help strengthen the terminal to accommodate larger cranes and vessels.
  • The board adopted a resolution to transfer about 29 acres of property at the former Navy base to Palmetto Railways, an arm of the S.C. Commerce Department that is developing the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility. The property was originally included as part of a larger parcel leased by the port in 1999 for the development of the Navy Base Terminal.
  • The board approved the sale of 0.92 acres of its former coal tipple property to Kinder Morgan for $318,000 to be used as a right of way to the rest of the property.

Related coverage:

But if the port is to remain a top 10 container port in the United States, it needs to make more money to invest in better infrastructure for the massive ships of the future, Newsome said during his State of the Port address last week in North Charleston.

The ports authority plans to invest $1.3 billion by 2020 to complete the terminal at the former Navy base, improve infrastructure at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, and invest in taller container cranes and stronger wharves at terminals to handle the bigger ships.

Newsome said Charleston Harbor also needs to be deepened to 52 feet by the end of the decade. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently signed the Chief’s Report for the deepening project, which now awaits approval and authorization from Congress.

“The next five years will be the most decisive five years in the history of our port. ... The next five years will determine our future,” Newsome said during his address.

The ports authority plans to borrow funding for its terminal improvements, and it plans to increase its earnings by raising shipping lines’ rates and bringing more cargo through the port.

Economic development announcements, particularly from manufacturers, have been the biggest cargo boost for the port. Volvo’s new Berkeley County plant will bring up to 100,000 vehicles through the Columbus Street Terminal, which also handles BMW’s exports from Greer.

To grow container volume, the port might build two more inland ports in South Carolina, possibly along the Interstate 95 corridor near Florence and along Interstate 26 near Orangeburg. Newsome said the S.C. Inland Port in Greer has helped buoy cargo volumes at the Port of Charleston.

The ports authority board gave unanimous approval Wednesday for the port executive team to begin issuing $300 million in revenue bonds, which will help fund the terminal expansions and improvements through 2020.

“We need to achieve about 1.6 million containers by 2020,” Newsome said, noting that the port handled 1.1 million pier containers in fiscal 2015. “The region’s (Southeast) population growth drives imports and its manufacturing growth drives exports, so we’re optimistic.”

Board changes

During the meeting Wednesday, board chairman Bill Stern announced plans to step down at the end of this year, after an eight-year term. Stern has served as a board member since 2001.

In a resolution, the board said Stern “led the authority during the beginning, and through one of the most challenging global downward economic conditions of the recent century.”

The board unanimously elected Pat McKinney to replace Stern. The board also elected Pamela Lackey as vice chairwoman, Willie Jeffries as secretary and Mike Sisk as treasurer. The officers will serve two-year terms beginning in 2016.

Containers, financials

For fiscal 2016, which started in July, the ports authority handled 345,700 20-foot equivalent units — also called TEUs, the common industry measurement that counts every 20 feet worth of container. This is up 8.8% from the year prior.

Around 195,000 pier containers — total boxes, regardless of size — came through the ports authority’s terminals thus far in fiscal 2016, up about 8% from the same time last year. Roughly 96,000 of those pier containers came through the port in August.

Some 35,000 passengers have come through the port and 334 ships have docked in fiscal 2016.

Also of note, the S.C. Inland Port in Greer had about 10,000 gate moves in August, and truckers averaged turn times of 13 minutes.

The authority reported about $9 million in earnings for fiscal 2016, up 62% from the same time last year. Operating revenues were $37 million and total expenses were $28 million through Aug. 31.

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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