Port of Charleston expansion begins at Wando Terminal

A crane loads containers onto a ship at the Wando Welch Terminal, which is undergoing a $600 million expansion project that will convert one 25-acre parcel of land into a refrigerated container yard.

First phase of $600M project to be complete in 6 years

Expansion of the Port of Charleston finally is under way — at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant.

The State Ports Authority said Wednesday it will convert a 25-acre parcel into a refrigerated container yard. It is one of two equal-sized tracts of undeveloped land the SPA owns at the terminal.

The combined 50 acres represent the last expansion sites available to the SPA until it opens a proposed terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston. The first phase of that $600 million project is expected to take about six years to complete.

The maritime agency approved a nearly $28 million contract Wednesday to start redeveloping the Wando Welch tract. It also agreed to spend almost $1 million for other upgrades at the terminal.

The SPA spent more than four years securing a permit process for the Navy base terminal. The irony that expansion would first come in Mount Pleasant was not lost on Joe Bryant, the SPA's vice president of terminal development.

"We're just glad to finally get to build something," he said.

The remaining 25-acre parcel likely will be developed later, officials said.

The expansion at Wando Welch come as the SPA's biggest customer is making route changes that could bring more business to the Charleston waterfront.

Maersk Line, the world's largest cargo shipping line, has cut its eastern Mediterranean service, which had called at

Savannah, while adding more vessels sailing under U.S. flags to an existing Charleston service.

In November, the company switched the Mediterranean service from Charleston to Savannah, taking with it 52 vessel calls a year. But now Maersk has cut the service completely.

As part of the changes, the steamship line has added three U.S.-flagged vessels to its weekly "MECL1" service, which calls at Charleston and sails to the Middle East, among other destinations. It does not call at Savannah.

Ships that carry U.S. government cargo generally must sail under the U.S. flag.

Charleston is the last U.S. port of call on the MECL1 route, so the shift by Maersk is "very good news for us on the export side," said Fred Stribling, the SPA's vice president of marketing and sales.

To kick off the Wando Welch improvements, O.L. Thompson Construction Co. of North Charleston was awarded a $27.8 million contract for stormwater drainage, utilities, paving, lighting and other work. It won the job over eight other bidders.

About 670,000 cubic yards of dredge material will be removed from the former disposal site. Under an agreement with Charleston County, trucks removing the material will operate outside normal working hours to minimize traffic congestion, said Byron Miller, SPA spokesman.

"It's a lot of material that has to be removed," Miller said. "The work will go on for months."

The board also approved other contracts for improvements at the Mount Pleasant terminal worth a combined $954,000.

Raleigh-based engineering firm S&ME Inc., which has a Charleston office, was awarded $159,000 to develop and implement a quality assurance program to ensure construction meets specifications and industry standards.

As part of ongoing security upgrades, O'Neal Inc. of North Charleston will receive $299,000 for engineering services related to lighting, paving and other work.

In a separate contract, Kansas City-based Black & Veatch Corp. was awarded $496,000 to design a security system.

In other business:

--The SPA said revenue for the first two months of its fiscal year was $25.5 million, up 2 percent compared to the same period last year. Expenses were $17.9 million, a 9 percent increase, and earnings were $7.5 million, down 13 percent. The SPA's fiscal year ends June 30.

--It also reported that container volume was down 13 percent for the two-month period, to the equivalent of 288,981 20-foot-long cargo boxes.