SCSPA calls for deepwater…now

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTAll of South Carolina State Ports Authority’s (SCSPA) initiatives take advantage of the Port of Charleston’s No. 1 asset: its harbor depth. With a depth of 47 feet, at mean low water (MLW) in the entrance channel all the way to the dock, the Port of Charleston has the deepest water in the Southeast region.
Using the tides (5-6 feet gained during a high tide), the Port of Charleston is capable of handling ships drafting up to 48 feet of water. Today, four post-Panamax ships a week call the Port of Charleston. While about 70 percent of the nation’s population lives east of the Mississippi River, today only about 30 percent of import cargo to serve this market travels by water directly to the U.S. East Coast.
“For the last five to six months, we have handled more exports than imports,” stresses Byron Miller, SCSPA spokesman. “Right now we are experiencing a burgeoning export boom.”
Many of those exports are heading to China to support their production and consumption.
The U.S. Southeast is the export capital of the nation. Key exports from the Southeast, and the country as a whole, encompass forest products, paper and paper board. A large portion of those exports are dense products like forest products, paper and paper board, waste paper, logs and lumber, and scrap steel. Consequently, exports are heavier than imports.
“On a per container basis they can be 50 percent or more heavier than imports,” emphasizes Miller. “When you look at heavy cargos on the export side, you see that they displace more water. So you have to have the draft to accommodate those ships. And we do.”
Not only are these higher volume, lower value products being exported from the Port of Charleston, the seaport also handles high value bulk items such as BMW’s X series of automobiles, but now aircraft parts for Boeing.
“Boeing just located a $7.5+ million aircraft assembly line here,” says Miller.
The fact the Port of Charleston can accommodate post-Panamax ships at depths up to 45 feet is not only critical for exports, but is increasingly important as the opening date of the expanded Panama Canal nears.
“Shippers alike are already looking at where they can place their business to be ready for the opening of the new locks,” says Miller.
Consequently, the Port of Charleston is working toward even deeper channels. A post-45-foot Harbor Deepening Project is now underway. Its last deepening occurred in 2004.
The Corps of Engineers completed the Reconnaissance phase of the project and determined a federal interest in deepening Charleston. As a matter of fact, the Corps determined that Charleston is the best value for taxpayers, noting that “Preliminary studies at other nearby harbors show that Charleston Harbor would probably be the cheapest South Atlantic harbor to deepen to 50 feet.” Funding for the next phase – Feasibility – is pending in the United States Congress.
In January, City of Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr met with President Obama to discuss how the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project and how it can help create jobs and spur the economy.
“I could think of no better way the Administration could help this city, this state and this region than by deepening Charleston harbor,” Mayor Riley said back then.
More than 300 ships too big for the Panama Canal have already called Charleston, four years before the $5-billion canal expansion is completed. Nearly 80 percent of the ship capacity on order is for ships too big for the existing canal.
“Charleston is not alone when it comes to U.S. ports that are trying to figure out exactly what the future holds for them for maintenance and new construction,” Miller adds. “In our case, we know we have the best buy. This is the cheapest and probably the only port in the region that can be deepened to 50 feet.”
He emphasizes how the cost of the harbor deepening when compared to the economic benefits is compelling. “We can accomplish that for $300 million to $350 million, which is lot of money. But

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American Journal of Transportation