SC Ports board approves fiscal 2014 plan

Bruce Smith, Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- The board of the South Carolina State Ports Authority on Tuesday approved an aggressive budget for next fiscal year that includes about $29 million for construction of the agency's new inland port.

The money for the inland port in Greer, S.C., is part of a $123 million capital spending plan for the port agency.

"We first discussed this with Norfolk Southern in the middle of January of 2012 and we're going to have a very innovative inland port in operation in September of 2013 in less than two years' time," Jim Newsome, the authority's chairman and CEO told reporters.

The inland port allows shipping containers to be taken by train between the coast and the Greer terminal where it is loaded off of and onto trucks.

Ports officials think the terminal could eliminate 50,000 truck trips a year on busy Interstate 26 between Charleston and the Greenville-Spartanburg area.

It's a key part of the agency's 10-year, $1.3 billion plan to improve the state's port facilities.

"It's an innovative concept in that it puts a container capable terminal well into the interior and I don't know of many examples of that," he said. It is expected to be completed by Sept. 1.

The terminal will shorten the turnaround time for trucks carrying containership cargo. "I see a whole explosion of a logistics infrastructure up there," Newsome added.

The board also agreed Tuesday to purchase two new larger container cranes to handle the supersize container ships coming into service with the widening of the Panama Canal. The authority is spending about $25 million on the cranes expected to be in service in 2015.

When they are installed, 12 of the 20 container cranes at the state's ports will be able to service the larger ships.

The authority's budget envisions about a 6 percent increase in container volume.

"We have committed ourselves to aggressive targets. That's the way you have to run an enterprise," Newsome said. "Our growth in fiscal '13 will be over 8 percent and that's probably four times the U.S. container market total."

This year's volume is higher than what is projected for next year because a new Australian service was added in Charleston during the past year,

"We're at a 6 percent forecast because the economy is still uncertain," Newsome said.