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November 22, 2008

Port says it is committed to reducing pollution

State Ports Authority spokesman Byron Miller said his agency is committed to expanding the Port of Charleston without polluting the landscape.

State Ports Authority spokesman Byron Miller said his agency is committed to expanding the Port of Charleston without polluting the landscape.

Miller said a new terminal will help the port overall.

“We will be able to handle more business and do it with less environmental impact,” he said.

Miller said many state and federal agencies had initial concerns about the expansion but since have dropped their objections. Those include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, often one of the most vocal agencies opposing development in sensitive areas. He took issue with criticism from environmentalists, doctors and residents who have protested the new terminal.

“It’s interesting you still have these folks who think they know more than all these federal and state agencies,” Miller said.

When completed, the terminal will be the second-largest of Charleston’s six and will increase the port’s capacity by about 50 percent. The initial phase of the project is to be finished in 2014.

The port’s largest terminal, at Mount Pleasant, across the Cooper River from Charleston, produced the majority of the air pollution documented in a recent emissions inventory.

DHEC air quality chief Myra Reece said the bureau is trying to rein in port pollution in the Charleston area, home to about 600,000 people and growing, through a voluntary agreement with the Ports Authority. Her division had no authority to permit the project because there is no “point source,” or smokestack, to regulate, she said. Most of the new pollution will come from cars, trucks and ships. DHEC’s coastal and water divisions issued the permits.

The agreement is designed to reduce air pollution generated by ships, businesses and trucks using terminal sites. The recently released emissions inventory was one result, Reece said.

The Ports Authority also agreed to:

 Help reduce trucks’ idling time by loading and unloading them more quickly

 Replace diesel-powered cranes with electric cranes

 Consider providing electricity for ships, if “economically feasible,” so they don’t run their engines while docked

The Environmental Protection Agency also chose the Ports Authority recently as one of seven recipients for money to reduce pollution from trucks and container stacking equipment.

In exchange for getting permits for the expansion, DHEC required the Ports Authority to spend money to offset the project’s environmental impacts. That includes $1 million to help the Trust for Public Land acquire Morris Island, a barrier island with a landmark lighthouse; $1 million to The Nature Conservancy to preserve land near the Cooper River; and $1 million to restore oyster reefs around Charleston.

The Conservation League’s Dana Beach said many of the efforts are good. But the agreement is nonbinding and will not make a meaningful difference in curbing pollution, he said.

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