Jim Newsome knows he's creating some huge expectations for the Port of Charleston's resurgence. And he surely understands that "expectations" can form risky credibility factors in the maritime marketplace and in the equations of public confidence.
Heck, the Port of Charleston in collaboration with the S.C. Legislature might yet write the book on that piercing reality. It's most appropriate title - "The Daniel Island Hangover."
But Newsome says he's not afraid of "expectations."
"Nothing worthwhile gets accomplished without setting aggressive targets," he says.
So, he challenges, why settle for 2020 development targets for major development projects when 2018 just might be possible?
His fearless timelines are his message to South Carolinians and a restless market that the strategic stars are aligning nicely for the Port of Charleston. He's the lyrical "man on fire," a son of Savannah, now hurried and fixated on one big goal - end once and for all Savannah's damnable dominance of Charleston in the containership business.
Lest we forget, it was little more than a decade ago that Charleston dominated South Atlantic ports and the Daniel Island project defined the port's competitive future. That project fizzled at political altars as Georgia built distribution centers at the Port of Savannah.
In what seems like a blink of the industry's competitive eye, Savannah now handles about twice as many containers as Charleston.
The North Charleston terminal project at the old Navy Base was supposed to be finished in 2013, but that didn't work, either. This failure-of-expectations trend is just not good at a time carriers and shippers are choosing ports that can translate expectations into functioning projects.
Newsome and his board have skillfully rebooted the Port of Charleston's image statewide. The Port of Charleston is now the darling of state infrastructure development planning. There is an "expectation" that the Port of Charleston's resurgence is now well charted - in fact, ordained.
Newsome enjoys pushing the "why not" buttons.
His "to-do list" - the federal government deepens its Charleston Harbor shipping channels to 50 feet, the Ports Authority completes the North Charleston container terminal complex at the old Navy Base, and the S.C. Public Railways Commission builds out a new intermodal rail complex at the old base.
All in about 48 months.
The global containership industry is consolidating and will deploy fewer but bigger ships to handle the projected steady growth of global trade.
This format puts a huge demand on the baseline capacities of ports and the measured efficiencies of modal-connected operations. In the competitive hustle to respond to this, many port authorities are reaching beyond commercial rationality.
Newsome's strategic plan generally is on key - but he ups the "expectations" ante by declaring that all that needs to be done can and should be done by 2018.
And he seems very confident.
The Army Corps of Engineers is applying new fast-track procedures for the 50-foot harbor deepening studies needed for formal congressional approval.
"We have a great Corps district," Newsome says. "We are truly working as partners, and the Corps has a new mantra to move projects faster."
Channel deepening will cost an estimated $320 million with the state's share about $200 million. Last year, the Legislature acted to escrow the full amount to assure the project would not be stalled by balky congressional processes. Arguments over federal and state shares can be settled after the deepening is completed.
Newsome's biggest challenge is financing the $750 million North Charleston Terminal. The Authority's capital program depends on current revenues continuing to grow with higher volumes. South Atlantic port prices are about half North Atlantic ports and the productivity records are higher. This suggests some pricing opportunities for the SPA.
Newsome will depend heavily on Jeff McWhorter if he is to realize his 2018 goals. McWhorter, the S.C. Public Railways' very capable chief executive, is just beginning to aim the intermodal rail yard project at its federally mandated regulatory thicket. McWhorter says a 2018 completion could be "possible."
Newsome should also be including I-26 and I-526 improvements on his ultra-ambitious "to-do list." A renascent Port of Charleston portends a greater nightmare for regional Charleston's only interstate facilities without improvements.
Newsome's "why not" game might seem like dream-boating to many.
But it does send much-needed positive signals to decision-making markets that South Carolina has boldly teed up projects the Port of Charleston needs for long-term competitiveness.
And if it all works out by 2018, Newsome and his board will have shed the "Daniel Island" image for sure - and redefined timeline standards for public port authority developments in the United States.
Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston City Councilman. He was president/ceo of the American Association of Port Authorities 1979-86 and president/ceo of the Port of New Orleans 1986-2002. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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