Room to potentially berth more Coast Guard cutters is in the works for Charleston.
The State Ports Authority is negotiating a property swap at the former Charleston Naval Base that would give the SPA's new terminal more room while giving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the Veterans Terminal pier.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is in the first stage of a national program of building 84 new ships.
The property exchange would turn over to the SPA a portion of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center property abutting the North Charleston port site now under construction. In exchange, Homeland Security would be given the terminal and pier off the end of Viaduct Road now owned the SPA.
That pier terminal currently sits next to active Coast Guard piers, and the Coast Guard, like FLETC, reports to the Homeland Security.
Details of the plans are few: None of the parties involved wanted to talk specifics with negotiations underway. But a deal could be finalized this spring.
"FLETC, the Coast Guard and the Port are discussing a potential land transaction involving portions of Veterans Terminal to better accommodate the future needs of all parties," said Erin Dhand, SPA spokeswoman. "These discussions have been going on for some time, but no final decision has been reached or final agreements signed."
Alicia Gregory, Homeland Security senior public affairs specialist, said only that the department would not comment "pre-decision."
In 2016, the SPA objected to a proposal to locate a new cruise ship facility at Veterans Terminal, saying repairs would cost too much and that the terminal would play a key role in supporting a new cargo terminal being built at the nearby former Navy base.
The Charleston Coast Guard station at the old Navy base currently berths three of the service's 243 cutters, according to the service website. The Coast Guard is adding 58 fast-response cutters, 25 offshore cutters and its ninth national security cutter.
“Charleston is the perfect location for national security cutters, and Senator (Lindsey) Graham would welcome additional capability being located there," said Kevin Bishop, the spokesman for Graham, R-S.C., who sits on the Senate's Armed Services Committee. "He remains optimistic we will see an increased Coast Guard footprint in South Carolina in the future."
The service had been in some jeopardy after President Donald Trump proposed cutting its budget by $1.3 billion, or 12 percent, early last year. But current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, then the Homeland Security chief, had funding restored.
Amid a new emphasis on border security, the Coast Guard in 2017 confiscated a record 232 metric tons of cocaine and arrested more than 700 smugglers, according to military.com. The Charleston-based cutter Hamilton took part in a far-ranging patrol and a major drug bust operation that netted nearly $500 million in cocaine.
After Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas in August 2015, the service deployed 3,000 service people and 100 aircraft that helped rescue about 12,000 flood victims and 1,500 pets.