Forty Feet into the Future

South Carolina Ports Authority kicks off post-Panamax future with crane commissioning event at Wando Welch terminal

What does 40 feet really mean in the grand scheme of things? When it comes to the business of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) and big ship readiness at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, it means a whole heck of a lot.ports-1

Look no further than to the terminal waterfront itself, where last Wednesday, November 9, the SCPA held a black-tie, gala affair to officially commission two new 155-foot container ship cranes that will service the terminal and the huge “post-Panamax” ships that, with the widening of the Panama Canal, can now call on East Coast ports directly from China. The new cranes are 40 feet higher than the existing cranes and promise to lift port operations to new heights when it comes to volume and competition.ports-2

 

A collection of some of the most important leaders in the city and the state’s import, export, and logistics community were on hand for the SCPA celebratory event, which was headlined by an address by SCPA President Jim Newsome and a light and fireworks show highlighting the terminal’s two new additions.

The purchase of the new cranes, nicknamed “Heavy Metal” and “Crane Bob Blue Pants” by a pair of Belle Hall Elementary fifth-graders, represents a significant step in the organization’s 10-year, $1.3 billion capital expenditure plan to grow and fully prepare the port to handle bigger ships, and that figure doesn’t even account for the separate harbor deepening project.

Along with the new cranes, purchased for $12.5 million each from Chinese firm Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industry, the SCPA announced earlier this summer it would be buying two more for installation in 2017 and raising four existing cranes the required forty feet to meet post-Panamax standards. Newsome reported that by 2020 the port hopes to have eight 155-foot cranes in operation at the Wando Welch Terminal capable of handling two post-Panamax ships at the same time.

ports-3At present, Daniel Island residents exiting off the I-526 Mark Clark Expressway and turning south on River Landing Drive can see the two new cranes on the horizon above the tree line. What appears from afar to be a pair of dinosaurs standing in the distance will by 2020 be a herd of them. But, according to S.C. State Senator Larry Grooms, even having an expansive port across the river from Daniel Island is much better than what might have landed here if the proposed “Global Gateway” port project for the island had ever come to fruition.

“The biggest issue I’ve had with the port was with the Global Gateway that was going to be built on Daniel Island,” said Grooms, a Daniel Island resident. “I was one of the first ones to jump out and say, ‘No we’re not going to build it here.’ Before long a couple more jumped on board and we decided to look at one of the other opportunities.”

Grooms’ dislike of the Global Gateway port terminal project was nearly unanimous. The project was scrapped by the SCPA after the public decried the plan, which called for the organization to apply for permitting to build the terminal. It was only after the SCPA withdrew its request to acquire the permitting that the expansion of the Wando Welch Terminal was even considered, said Grooms.

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“Modernizing this port can handle the post-Panamax ships, that’s a big deal for all of us,” continued Grooms. “It’s about a billion-dollar project, there are close to about a billion dollars in capital improvements being made… when you count port deepening, really two billion. With the investments that are being made to the terminal on the Navy base there will be the opportunity to actually barge containers to the near rail which will cut down on the number of trucks on I-526.”

“We hope that Daniel Island residents don’t see this as a bad thing,” said Erin Dhand, Manager of the SCPA Corporate Communications and Community Affairs. “This is really exciting. This signifies our port, and therefore South Carolina, being competitive with other ports up and down the East Coast.”

“I understand the past with the proposal for the terminal on Daniel Island might have left people with a negative impression of the ports, but that’s in the past and the new terminal is within reach,” continued Dhand, who further stated that business at the SPCA’s busiest port terminal would continue as normal, just with fewer, larger ships. “It’s an exciting time for the port and for the state.”

Newsome’s remarks making the commissioning of the cranes official were long-awaited by members of the import, export, and logistics industries, many of whom attended the event last Wednesday evening. The two new cranes are the first the SCPA has ordered and installed in nearly a decade.

“This terminal is 35 years old and that’s part of the reason we’re standing here tonight to celebrate the purchase of two new cranes as part of our important wharf refurbishment project here to handle very large container ships,” said Newsome. “We’re spending an excess of $50 million to retrofit the entire length of this dwarf structure to 3,800 feet to handle the largest ships.”

The refurbishment project is currently about halfway done and will be completed sometime in 2017, he added; about the time the eight cranes are raised and the new ships arrive. Newsome’s announcement about another goal for next year elicited cheers from the audience.

“Also by the end of 2017, we plan to have the first dredge in our harbor, to begin the construction phase of our deepening project which would give us the deepest harbor on the East Coast by 2020.”

The two new, 2,000-ton cranes will be able to lift containers up 155 feet and out 200 feet. At that size the cranes can service post-Panamax ships with as many as 14,000 20-foot containers, as opposed to the biggest that call on the port today, ships that carry only up to 6,000 or 7,000 20-foot units.

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In laymen’s terms, the cranes will be able to service ships that have containers stacked nine high, as opposed to those of today, stacked five to six containers high. Newsome called the port’s future capacity growth “a game-changer for East Coast ports.”

Newsome updated the audience on the SCPA’s progress with his opening remarks before next recognizing the approximately 5,000-member professional community that supports the port industry, a group he called the “secret sauce of the port.” Finally, Newsome turned to another group integral in the expansion of the Wando Welch Terminal and also in attendance at the event – the legislative community, without whom, said Newsome, growth couldn’t happen.

“I want to thank our board and the South Carolina legislative leadership that are here tonight,” he continued. “They have have gotten us through the challenge of making the large investments necessary (to the port) to thrive as a top-10 player in the U.S. container port industry.”

At that point, and with the party’s guests following suit in unison, Newsome raised his glass and offered a toast to the new cranes.

“To many years of success, to the success of our port, and to the success of the state,” he said. “Best wishes to all of you for being here.”

The SCPA leader then turned to the audio and lighting/fireworks team working the event and kicked off the light show with a decisive ‘Now!’ With a bang, the post post-Panamax period had officially arrived.

For more information on the South Carolina Ports Authority, the Wando Welch Terminal, or the two new cranes, see the organization’s website at www.scspa.org.

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