Ports Authority CEO: Port of Charleston needs to invest to remain competitive

By Liz Segrist
Published Nov. 20, 2013

S.C. State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said he wants the Port of Charleston to be the deepest and most preferred port for customers on the East Coast.

As shipping companies deploy bigger ships and expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2015, port leaders are racing to deepen their ports to provide 24/7 access without tidal restrictions.

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Deepening the port from 45 feet to more than 50 feet would be ideal, Newsome said during his State of the Port address Tuesday in North Charleston.

“The growth of exporting and the formation of mega-alliances that will feature the deployment of large container ships on the East Coast mean that deepened harbors are critical for supporting commerce in the Southeast region,” Newsome said to nearly 700 maritime and business leaders yesterday.

Newsome hopes for three projects to be completed in 2018 that are expected to ramp up competitiveness, container volume and market share.

Port deepening is among them. The Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District is in the midst of its deepening feasibility study to determine the depth needed.

“That’s my view,” Newsome said of his anticipated timeline and depth. “That doesn’t mean the Corps’ study will reveal that.”

Also in 2018, the anticipated completion of the ports authority’s more than $700 million container terminal at the former Navy base in Charleston will include rail access, and the construction of a nearby intermodal rail yard as well.

“Timing wise, these three things can coalesce into one year, and they really should, because they work in tandem,” Newsome said of the port deepening, container terminal and intermodal rail yard.

The Port of Charleston is a top 10 U.S. port by containers. It saw 9% growth in fiscal 2013. Newsome said the port needs to be deeper to support the Southeast, a region that continues to grow in terms of population, manufacturing and consumption.

He said ports have to invest in harbor deepening, related road and rail logistics and terminal facilities to remain competitive in the future. In order to fund the huge infrastructure projects, Newsome said it’s time to raise customers’ rates.

Southeastern ports’ rates are, on average, roughly 30% lower than Northeastern ports’ rates.

“We offer the best product, the most productive product at the least cost,” Newsome said, declining to give a specific rate increase figure. “There’s no reason that should be the case. We have big investment demands, and we need to earn more money.”

Subscribe to the Charleston Regional Business Journal to read the full story in the Dec. 2 issue.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist.

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