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Charleston Business

Record-breaking April at SC Ports Omen of Fiscal-year Growth

May 30, 2018 02:03PM ● By Chris Haire

With the fiscal year coming to an end, the S.C. Ports Authority is looking at an uptick in volume growth. 

April 2018 was a recording breaking month at the Wando Welch and North Charleston terminals -- besting the previous April by 4 percent -- while overall growth for the fiscal year so far is inching closer to 2 percent. 

Meanwhile, the Inland Port in Greer looks to beat last year’s number. 

All of that bodes well for the agency as it embarks on a major expansion in North Charleston.

Set to open in 2021, North Charleston’s Hugh K. Letherman Sr. Terminal is “currently the only new permitted container terminal under construction on the U.S. East or Gulf coasts,” says SCPA spokeswoman Erin Dhand.

While last year’s activity mainly included site work -- the delivery and placement of stone, soil consolidation, and the installation of test pilings, Dhand says, “The activities that will take place over the next 12 months will mark a significant shift from early site preparation into actual construction, design, and purchase of equipment.”

That’s not the only significant project underway. The much-needed Charleston Harbor deepening recently began, a project that will take the harbor from 45 feet to 52 feet and allow it to welcome the massive new-Panamax ships.

The new-Panamax vessels are designed to maximum shipping volume as a result of the upgraded larger locks at the Panama Canal.

“Upon completion in 2020, the Charleston Harbor will be the deepest on the East Coast, allowing 8,000-13,000 20-foot equivalent container unit (TEU) vessels to call our terminals without tidal restriction,” Dhand says. “This depth will allow Charleston to be the last East Coast port of call for vessels loaded heavy with export goods bound for overseas and is a significant competitive advantage given the growing size of ships in today’s industry.”

Previous Panamax ships were capped at 5,000 TEU.

To prepare for new-Panamax ships, SPA is outfitting the ports with new cranes. 

The Wando received its first pair of new-Panamax cranes in 2016, while two more arrived in March. A fifth and final crane will be delivered next year. These new cranes can lift cargo 40-feet higher than previous cranes.

“The bigger ships calling East Coast ports today require taller cranes for efficient operations of the vessels while they’re in Port,” Dhand says.

According to SCPA, the “arrival of the cranes marks the final stage of a $48.4 million project to strengthen and upgrade the Wando Terminal wharf and infrastructure required for handling larger vessels.”

Since 2012, the International Association of Ports and Harbors notes that Charleston has been the fastest-growing port in North America, although when it come to TEU volume, the port is in tenth place overall, well behind leaders Los Angeles, Long Beach, New York/New Jersey, and Savannah. Internationally, Charleston fails to crack the top 50.

What’s driving Charleston’s growth? Dhand says it comes down the state’s strong manufacturing sector.

This spring also saw the opening of Inland Port Dillon, the state’s second rail-based inland port. SCPA expects Dillion “to convert an estimated 45,000 container movements from truck to rail in the first year of operation.”

The state’s first inland port, Inland Port Greer, has had 96,937 rail moves since July, and looks to have another trend-setting year. 

Dhand says inland ports have a big role to play at SCPA. “They act as economic development tools by enabling companies to take advantage of lower-cost land in the interior state but still have the benefit of being near-port, since cargo can be moved overnight via rail to and from the Port of Charleston.”

She adds, “The Port is South Carolina’s major strategic asset, and its growth and success brings significant benefits statewide -- 1 in 11 jobs paying 40 percent higher than the state’s average wage and $53 billion in annual economic impact are tied to the Port.”