With $2 billion in broad-ranging infrastructure investments over the past six years and numerous further enhancements underway, the South Carolina Ports Authority is fluidly moving record cargo volumes while putting in place facilities to accommodate future growth in mega-containership activity.

“Just when you might think $2 billion worth of projects was enough, here we’re coming back with more,” Barbara Melvin, president, and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority, told AJOT.


Melvin, who assumed the SC Ports helm in July, capping nearly 25 years with the authority, including the past four as a chief operating officer, is putting her vast port operational experience to spot-on use in ensuring smooth cargo flows through the Port of Charleston today and for decades to come.

In its fiscal year ended June 30, the Port of Charleston enjoyed 12 percent year-over-year growth in containerized cargo volume, reaching 2.85 million 20-foot-equivalent units, or TEUs, solidifying its position as the eighth-busiest U.S. containerport.

“More importantly, particularly for our tapping into retail as well as continuing to support our advanced manufacturing base, is the fact we handled 1.44 million loaded import TEUs, up 22 percent,” Melvin said. “We presented really well as a gateway for imports into the United States.”

She added that, with increasingly large containerships, the port handled nearly 2,500 TEUs per vessel call in the past fiscal year, up 28 percent from the preceding 12-month period.

Melvin said “a holistic investment picture,” involving modernization of longstanding facilities along with construction of new leading-edge infrastructure, has facilitated handling this record growth.

A $550 million update of the 1970s-designed Wando Welch Terminal has brought big-ship-handling capabilities, with the last of 15 new 155-foot-lift-height ship-to-shore cranes erected over the summer. Now three 14,000-TEU-capacity ships can be worked simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the first phase of SC Ports’ Leatherman Terminal – the first new U.S. greenfield terminal since 2009 – is a year and a half into operations with five 169-foot-tall cranes capable of working a 20,000-TEU mega vessel. Two further phases are planned over the next eight years or so at the terminal, which was built on a decommissioned U.S. Navy base site.

And, wrapping up this year, thanks to state and federal funding, is the $600 million Charleston Harbor deepening project, delivering the deepest harbor on the U.S. East Coast at 52 feet at berths and 54 feet along the entrance channel, meaning absolutely no restrictions in any tidal condition for a vessel drawing 48 feet, according to Melvin.

“That’s important not just for our import customers, who are bringing fully laden ships here from Asia and Europe, but it’s also extremely important for our exporters,” she said, noting that outbound cargos include agricultural commodities, forest products, and resins, as well as automotive exports.

Most recently, SC Ports broke ground in mid-October on the $550 million Navy Base Intermodal Facility, about a mile from Leatherman Terminal via dedicated roadway, targeting mid-2025 completion. In partnership with Palmetto Railways, the state-of-industry…

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