The board of the South Carolina State Ports Authority learned Tuesday that operating revenues and earnings were up last fiscal year and three major projects crucial to the future of the ports are progressing smoothly.
Operating revenues of more than $140 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30 were up 7 percent from the previous year. And earnings of almost $13 million represented an increase of more than $5 million. Container volume through the ports increased for the third straight year.
The agency has embarked on a $1.3 billion capital improvement plan that includes a new $25 million inland port in Greer. The agency broke ground in March for the inland port where steel shipping containers will be transferred between trucks and trains for delivery to and from the coast by rail.
“The inland port is moving fast despite 60 days of rain,” Jim Newsome, the authority’s president and CEO, told the board. “I think this is going to be a real dramatic development for our ports.”
The port, delayed a bit because of the heavy rains in the state this summer, is now scheduled to open in mid-October. The first gantry crane arrived in Greer from Charleston on Monday and two more are being shipped this week.
Work also is progressing at the authority’s new $525 million container terminal at the old Charleston Naval Base. The first major fill project at the terminal, costing $46 million, is expected to be completed by next spring. That terminal will boost container capacity in the Charleston ports by 50 percent once completed.
Newsome said there is also good news concerning a third major project, the deepening of the Charleston Harbor shipping channel expected to cost upward to $350 million. Studies of the project have been put on a fast track and a final recommendation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in 2015.
The authority wants the channel deepened from its current 45 feet to 50 feet to handle larger container ships that will routinely call once the widened Panama Canal is open in 2015.
Newsome said recent studies of the harbor bottom are positive.
“The sampling work is showing we don’t have a lot of challenges such as rock and things of that nature,” he said. “That’s a big step to find we can dredge a soft bottom and not have to do a lot of explosive work and things line that.”