The U.S. government should establish a set of priorities for deepening of ports and harbors and create a new way of funding projects that make strategic sense for the nation’s trade needs, according to Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Journal of Commerce, Newsome called for a new way of funding the deepening of the nation’s strategic ports as the influx of mega-ships into global ocean trades requires a rapid upgrade of U.S. infrastructure. “This is separate from harbor maintenance, which already has its own funding mechanism,” he said.
Only two East Coast ports — Norfolk and Baltimore — have existing harbor depths of 50 feet necessary to handle the 13,000-TEU vessels that increasingly are entering service. All the major ports in the Southeast, however, have harbor deepening plans. Miami’s 50-foot deepening project should be complete late next year.
Newsome said the SCPA is expediting the permitting process to deepen its harbor to 50 feet and expects to complete the feasibility study by 2015. “We hope to have our harbor deepened by the time our new Navy base terminal is completed at the end of 2018.” He said the deepening project would enable the port to handle big new post-Panamax ships with 48 feet of draft “24 hours a day.”
Savannah will complete its deepening project to 47 feet because it has already received the go-ahead from the Army Corps of Engineers, which expects to complete the project by 2015, when the Panama Canal lock expansion project is complete.
Newsome has engineered a turnaround in the fortunes of the Port of Charleston since he took over the SCPA in 2009, enabling it to gain strong volume growth year-over-year, and turning it into the fastest-growing port in the U.S. last year.
“We have to grow above the market, so if the economy is ebbing, we still need to push the growth curve above the market.”
Charleston’s container throughput increased 9.6 percent year-over-year in 2012 to 1.5 million 20-foot-equivalent units.
Newsome is pushing hard for deepening his port’s harbor to 50 feet from 45 feet now. The South Carolina Legislature already has has committed $300 million to fund the project once it receives authorization from Congress.
The cost-sharing structure for the project is 60 percent funded by the state, or $180 million. The additional $120 million in the fund would cover the federal share of the project's construction if federal funding isn’t available. The funds also could be used to keep the project moving forward without having to wait for the federal share in a time of budget constraints, Newsome said.