SPA has aggressive goals

The S.C. State Ports Authority says its plan to increase container business in Charleston in its next fiscal year is ambitious but achievable. (Grace Beahm/Staff/File)

The State Ports Authority anticipates moving 892,500 shipping containers through the Port of Charleston during the next 12 months for an 8 percent increase over the prior year.

At a board meeting where the budget plan was outlined Monday, SPA Chief Executive Officer Jim Newsome said the projections are ambitious, keeping in line with the maritime agency’s goal of aggressive growth.

“Right up front, I would say U.S. trade growth should be between 3 and 4 percent, so this is a stretch target,” Newsome told the board.

The SPA also had some aggressive goals for increasing container shipments during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, but has so far fallen short. With 11 months accounted for, container traffic at the end of May was just 2.2 percent ahead of the prior year, and more than 26,000 containers below expectations.

If the budget projections for the 2013 fiscal year prove to be on target, the Port of Charleston is due for a substantial increase in container shipping. Newsome noted that three new shipping services were added at the port this year.

“I think this is an ambitious goal, but a realistic goal,” said SPA Chairman Bill Stern.

If the projections are met, the port’s container business would still be less than it was a decade earlier. In the 2002-03 fiscal year, as the nation was emerging from the 2001 recession, the port moved 958,310 pier containers.

Non-container traffic, such as automobiles and heavy equipment, has been a bright spot for the authority, and is expected to further increase next year.

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For the 11 months of the current budget year, non-container traffic is well ahead of projections and up more than 18 percent versus the prior year.

The SPA’s coming budget anticipates $145 million in operating revenue, an increase in earnings, and nearly $147 million in capital projects such as work on a new cruise ship terminal and the new cargo terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston.

Long-term borrowing, including bonds issued in 2010, will fund much of the capital projects work.

In other business at the SPA board meeting, Banks Construction Co. was awarded a more than $2.1 million contract for paving and container yard improvements at the North Charleston Terminal, and Epic Engineering was awarded a $160,560 contract for electrical engineering work at the same terminal, related to plans to replace four cranes there.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com