Strong April at port

The State Ports Authority said April was its busiest month for container activity since May 2008.

The SPA has handled the equivalent of 1.37 million 20-foot containers since its fiscal year began July 1. That's a 5.5% gain from the corresponding year-earlier period. CEO Jim Newsome attributed the increase to higher exports.

The SPA also had $132.4 million in operating revenue for the July-April period, up 15%.

The agency also approved up to $12 million to expand the New Orleans Cold Storage space on Remount Road in North Charleston to support increased demand for cold storage and freezer space.

In addition, the board OK'd the $195,000 sale of land once used as part of a rail corridor serving the former Port of Port Royal near Beaufort.

An unidentified buyer has struck a $3 million deal to purchase a former Charleston coal-loading terminal that hasn't been used in decades.

The State Ports Authority approved the sale of part of its waterfront "coal tipple" at its board meeting Thursday. The panel voted to sell a 16-acre segment known as "Parcel A." It's part of a larger piece of property owned by the maritime agency.

The land to be purchased is at the southern part of the two sites along the Cooper River between Town Creek and Magnolia Cemetery. The coal tipple is named after an old wooden loading trestle that curls into the Cooper River. The property stretches roughly from the SPA's Columbus Street Terminal to an old landfill that was used years ago to stage rock concerts.

The portion being sold includes masonry buildings and a piece of land that juts into Town Creek.

Jim Newsome, CEO and president of the SPA, would not identify the buyer Thursday because the sale has not been finalized. He said the site will be used for "water-borne commerce."

Newsome added that the SPA is retaining the rest of the roughly 98-acre property, which is largely wetlands.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, has voiced efforts to preserve the history of the coal tipple, which records operations dating back to the early 1900s.

In 2009, he announced plans to have Charleston Harbor designated as a National Historic Landmark to help preserve the coal tipple and other parts of the waterfront.

On Thursday, Limehouse said the sale by the port board a "win-win," potentially allowing for preservation of the idle industrial site.

"I intend to work with the new owner to see that (the) coal tipple is preserved and protected going forward," Limehouse said.

The coal tipple was built to load coal for export. It included machines that could lift and dump carloads of coal onto a conveyer system that transported the fossil fuel to waiting ships.

The Southern Railway Co. owned the tipple but it closed it in 1952. The railway transferred the property to the SPA in 1957. The property mostly has been idle aside from a massive fire that broke out at the property in April 1976.

The SPA once eyed the coal tipple site for a container terminal, but it nixed the idea when it was determined that much of the marsh would have to be destroyed.

Limehouse said the state has largely neglected the site.

"This sale could be a positive since the SPA has not done much to preserve and renovate the property," he said Thursday.

SPA spokesman Matt Tomsic defended the agency's use of the property.

"We support using Parcel A for economic development purposes, and we have inquired whether conservation groups see any use of available land unused for this project," Tomsic said.