Contract awarded for site preparation

The State Ports Authority kicked off the first phase of construction of its newest cargo terminal Thursday by hiring a company to begin preparing the site to accommodate ships and store thousands of containers.

Demolition work already is under way on the 280-acre property at the south end of the former Navy base in North Charleston.

The $13.6 million contract awarded Thursday is the first to be let under the construction permits issued earlier this year by state and federal agencies, the SPA said.

The site work, which includes moving utility lines, improving roads and building a retention pond, will be handled by Gulf Stream Construction Co., a North Charleston-based subsidiary of The Beach Co. The job is expected to last two years.

"We continue to move forward on the Navy base," said Bernard S. Groseclose, the SPA's president and chief executive officer.

While the SPA is proceeding with its first building phase, a Charleston-based environmental group is seeking to stop all work related to the proposed North Charleston port.

Last month, the Coastal Conservation League sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying the federal permitting agency gave the project the green light without adequately analyzing the impact the terminal would have on the environment and traffic.

Groseclose disagreed Thursday, saying the Corps thoroughly studied the expansion.

"We're confident in that and moving forward," he said.

Groseclose noted that the North Charleston port expansion is behind schedule and that its completion is critical to the state economy.

The estimated cost of the first phase of the new port facility is $550 million, not including a mandatory dedicated access road that would link the site with Interstate 26.

The terminal is supposed to be ready to handle its first ship in 2013.

When fully built, the three-berth Navy base terminal will increase capacity at the Port of Charleston by about 50 percent, meaning the SPA would be able to handle the equivalent of 1.4 million 20-foot-long shipping containers a year.

Separately, the authority elected a new slate of officers from among its board members Thursday, including a new chairman.

David J. Posek of Greenville will take the gavel for a two-year term from Columbia developer Bill Stern at the agency's next meeting on Jan. 15.

Stern, who has served as chairman since early 2006, will become vice chairman.

Also, John F. Hassell III and Whit Smith were elected as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

Posek, who has been on the SPA board since October 2005, is the retired president of Lockheed Martin's Aircraft and Logistics Center.

He previously worked for General Electric Co. for nearly 30 years. Posek has served on a number of community boards in the Upstate, including the Red Cross and as chairman of the University Center of Greenville.

In other business, the SPA board authorized Stern to sign an agreement with Georgia officials under a plan to develop a jointly owned container port in Jasper County.