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South Carolina Ports on brink of ‘truly historic’ 2021

CEO Jim Newsome delivers optimistic message during virtual State of the Port event

The first two of five ship-to-shore cranes for the new Leatherman Terminal arrived in South Carolina this month. (Photo: SCPA)

Jim Newsome, president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), delivered his 12th State of the Port address virtually Wednesday. 

“Usually I have the privilege of speaking to 800 well-attired leaders of the maritime community,” Newsome said, noting that although the annual in-person gathering was moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic, “this is a message of great optimism about our future.” 

And Newsome didn’t dwell on the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic derailed what most certainly would have been a record year for the SCPA. “We should not be deterred by the pandemic. We were on a record pace, the pandemic happened, we worked seamlessly through it,” he said. 

“We should not lose focus of the fact that we have a lot of significant accomplishments,” continued Newsome, who, without stylish sets or prerecorded skits, straightforwardly delivered 2020 highlights, which included: 

• Walmart in July announced plans to build a $220 million, 3 million-square-foot distribution center in Dorchester County, South Carolina, that is expected to increase volumes at the Port of Charleston by about 5% annually.

• The CMA CGM Brazil, the largest container ship to visit the U.S. East Coast at 15,072 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), called at the Port of Charleston in September.

• The Army Corps of Engineers awarded the final harbor deepening contract for a project that “will give us the deepest harbor on the East Coast of the United States,” Newsome said. 

The 52-foot depth, combined with the widening of entrance channels and turning basins, will enable mega container ships to access port terminals anytime without tidal restrictions, according to the SCPA, which said this strategic advantage is crucial to its infrastructure investments and global competitiveness.

Looking ahead, Newsome said the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal is on track for a Phase 1 opening in 2021. Also to come next year are Wando Welch Terminal enhancements, massive ship-to-shore crane installations and Inland Port Greer expansion.

“2021 will be a truly historic year for the port,” he said.

The Leatherman Terminal will have a 1,400-foot wharf, five ship-to-shore cranes with 169 feet of lift height above the wharf deck, 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes, an expansive container yard, and optimized operations and technology — all designed to handle growing cargo volumes and 19,000-TEU vessels, the SCPA said.

The first phase of the Leatherman Terminal project will add 700,000 TEUs of annual throughput capacity to the port, according to the SCPA, which said at full build-out, the terminal will add 2.4 million TEUs of capacity — doubling existing port capacity.

The SCPA said it will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wando Welch Terminal in 2021. Ongoing investments will yield 15 ship-to-shore cranes with 155 feet of lift height, 65 rubber-tired gantry cranes, a strong wharf to handle big ships, a new refrigerated container yard, efficient terminal operations and a capacity of 2.4 million TEUs.

Newsome called Walmart’s decision to build an import distribution center in Ridgeville, South Carolina, “a game changer for the port. It is a signal to the major retailers that we’re prepared to be a force in retail distribution and that we can handle their requirements. Walmart is at the cutting-edge of supply chain sophistication and performance, and their confidence in us speaks volumes.”

He said the SCPA also is focused on growing intermodal container rail, which it called a critical component to capturing more cargo. The SCPA moves 25% of its containers via intermodal rail, up from 12% a decade ago.

Inland ports Greer and Dillon “are a natural extension of the port’s capability into the interior of the state,” Newsome said. “They really give us a robust supply chain footprint.”

The SCPA plans to further expand Inland Port Greer as well as create near-dock rail through the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, a future cargo facility near the Leatherman Terminal in North Charleston that will be served by two Class I railroads.

“Our future at South Carolina Ports is very bright. Our best years are ahead of us. I’ve never felt more committed to that idea than I do right now,” Newsome said.

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Click for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.