SOUTH CAROLINA PORTS 2007 - Evolutions position Port of Charleston for growth

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

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTWithout a doubt, the world comes to South Carolina’s Lowcountry and the Port of Charleston is its major driving economic force.
In recent years the region has benefited from unprecedented growth, although the port has suffered by losing ground to Savannah in terms of shipping calls and annual container volume. But as Charleston and the vicinity continues to shift from an economy based on production to one witnessing a dramatic switch to distribution operations, prospects for growth are good.
Adding fuel to its economy, the region is expanding thanks to an influx of new residents and an expanding real estate market.
“We have benefited from a housing boom in this area,” says Byron D. Miller, South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA) spokesman. “A lot of our business at the port is related to the homebuilding market. In addition, there has been a fair amount of diversification of companies.”
With that boom has come a host of new distribution centers (DCs) being built in the region. Among them are Starbucks, Adidas, and QVC.
“Right now there is about 20 million of industrial warehouse distribution space in the permitting, planning or construction phase,” Miller reveals. Giving credence to activity are big name developers like Johnson Development Associates, Childress Klein Properties, and Hillwood Development Co. who are all committing DC projects to the Lowcountry.
Consequently, ongoing developments at the Port of Charleston are not only timely; they are increasingly needed.
New terminal expansionThe biggest news at the port these days are plans for a new terminal at the former Charleston Navy Base. SCSPA received its federal permits on April 26, with a ground breaking event on May 7th. (See related article)
“Things are really rolling,” says Miller. “We have already started a number of site preparations, one of which is a test embankment for soil settlement that will allow us to know what kind of construction methods we will be needing.”
When completed in phases over the coming 20 years, the new 280-acre terminal will be able to accommodate three additional ships along its 3,510-foot dock and increase port capacity by about 50%. Phase I of the terminal is expected to be completed running by 2013.
Reaching this point in the development did not come easy. The project was met by resistance from nearby localities and environmentalists. In the meantime, port officials sought private participation—a process that was narrowed to three proposals that represent a number of port customers.
“Obviously, we needed the federal and state permits to negotiate from a position of strength,” Miller adds. “We are now finalizing the independent financial feasibility study and will proceed with finalizing the nature of any private participation.”
In the meantime, the Port of Charleston is strengthening its ability to accommodate post-Panamax ships. In March four super post-Panamax cranes arrived in Charleston, two of which are being installed at the Wando Welch Terminal, and two at the North Charleston Terminal. Once the cranes are moved onto the terminals, engineers will raise their booms, finalize construction and run tests on the equipment. The cranes should be fully operational by late June.
Sixteen rubber tire gantry cranes (RTGs) have already been installed and are in operation at Wando Welch Terminal.
Other improvements include a new $635-million bridge over the main channel and harbor deepening to -45‚ at mean low water.
SCSPA officials are keeping a keen eye on developments related to the Panama Canal and applaud its $5.25-billion improvement plan that will allow the Canal to handle larger ships and more vessel transits.
Today, Charleston is only able to handle post-Panamax ships in the trans-Atlantic and trans-Suez services. “With an improved canal, the options expand - both for us and for our customers,” says Bernard S. Groseclose, Jr., SCSPA president and CEO.
Charleston’s business through the Pana

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American Journal of Transportation