Bobby Hitt SC Commerce Department

Bobby Hitt is secretary of the South Carolina Department of Commerce. The state agency will pay the Army Corps of Engineers $100,000 a year over the next five years for an employee to help process economic development permits. Provided/S.C. Department of Commerce

The S.C. Commerce Department is getting its own staff member at the Army Corps of Engineers in a move designed to process the state agency's economic development permits more quickly.

The Army Corps said this month it has agreed to accept the Commerce Department's proposal to fund the $100,000-a-year position for a five-year period. The plan was first proposed about two years ago.

Commerce spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell said the plan will let the Army Corps get involved in planning for economic and infrastructure developments at an early stage.

"In turn, this will allow for an increased focus on environmental responsibility while simultaneously improving the Corps' ability to review, evaluate and process permit applications in a timely manner," she said.

Environmental groups have been wary of such arrangements, saying the Army Corps might look more favorably on projects presented by agencies that pay its employees' salaries. The Army Corps is the chief federal regulator for issues involving wetlands and other water resources.

"The Corps is already under tremendous pressure for the decisions it has to make and, in particular, decisions requested by state agencies," said Chris DeScherer with the Southern Environmental Law Center's office in Charleston.

"Our concerns for this proposal remain the same now as they were two years ago, that the arrangement could give rise to at least the appearance of undue influence for state projects," he said.

However, the Commerce Department proposal isn't unique. The State Ports Authority, which operates the Port of Charleston, has been paying for a project manager at the Army Corps since 2014.

"The position is warranted by the large volume of work generated by regulatory port projects — a workload that continues to grow," said authority spokeswoman Erin Dhand.

The S.C. Department of Transportation has had a similar set-up since 2005. Such arrangements are allowed under a federal law passed in 2000.

The Army Corps, in a public notice, said the Commerce Department agreement is in response to the number and complexity of permit applications the state agency submits.

"It enables Corps staff to devote the attention required to these applications in a more timely and more thorough manner, benefiting both the S.C. Department of Commerce and the public," the notice states.

The federal regulator says the arrangement will not impact impartial decision making, with final decisions to be reviewed by someone at least one level above the Commerce-paid staffer.

Kalmar getting new space

Mount Pleasant-based Landmark Enterprises broke ground last week on a 15,000-square-foot building for Kalmar USA Inc., which provides equipment for cargo container handling at seaports in North America.

The building will be located in Cross County Commerce Park on Cross Park Drive in North Charleston. It will include a 70,000-square-foot concrete yard where customers can view and train on using the company's equipment.

Chris Booth, Kalmar's vice president for the North America market, said the new building "will provide a unique opportunity for our customers to experience and train on our products."

Kalmar is part of Helsinki, Finland-based Cargotec. The company currently has a location at 7321 Pepperdam Ave. in North Charleston.

Cross County Commerce Park is a 34-acre industrial site located between Cross County and Cross Park roads. Landmark has already completed one building in the park and is working on several other projects at additional sites, said company President Jason Ward.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_