Founded in 1942, the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) operates the seaports in Charleston and Georgetown. These important ports generate billions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs for the State economy. The SCPA develops, facilitates, and promotes waterborne commerce for the benefit of the businesses and citizens of the State by delivering competitive services and facilities, working with stakeholders, and assuring financial self-sufficiency in the Port of Charleston.
The SCPA is structured like a private business. In the last 20 years, the SCPA has not received subsidies for operations or capital expenditures from the State. Rather, it has funded projects with port-issued bonds for which neither the State of South Carolina nor the taxpayers are responsible. The Authority Board is appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate.
The SCPA owns and operates the public marine terminals in the Port of Charleston. SCPA leads all customer service activities in the terminals, operates all container cranes, and operates all container storage yards in the Port of Charleston.
Shippers in more than 20 states use the Port of Charleston to access foreign suppliers and customers, although almost half of Port of Charleston tonnage is related to firms within the State. The Port of Charleston's dominant markets are North Europe and Asia, representing 55% of all cargo volume, but the Port of Charleston has shipping links with over 100 countries around the world.
The Port of Charleston is one of the Southeast United States' busiest container ports. In terms of the dollar value of international shipments, the Port of Charleston Customs district is the eight largest in the United States. In 2011, the Port of Charleston handled almost 1.4 million TEUs of containerized cargo and over 788 thousand tons of breakbulk cargo. The major commodities handled by the Port of Charleston included consumer goods, agricultural products, vehicles, machinery, metals, chemicals, and clay products.
The major exports leaving the Port of Charleston include paper and paperboard, wood pulp, auto parts, logs and lumber, fabrics (including raw cotton), and general miscellaneous cargoes. Other exports include synthetic resins, metal scrap, chemicals, fresh and frozen poultry, machinery, automobiles, grapefruit and lemons, lawn and garden equipment, furniture, plastic products, and medical equipment and supplies.
The Port of Charleston handles a wide range of imports. The dominant imported cargoes entering the Port of Charleston include furniture; auto parts; sheets, blankets, and towels; fabrics; tires and tubes; apparel and footwear; household goods; and yarns. Other imports in the Port of Charleston include machinery parts, logs and lumber, hardware, engines, motors, and parts.
Over 20 marine carriers move cargo between the Port of Charleston and over 150 nations around the world. Based on the volume of cargo, the Port of Charleston's major trading partners include North Europe (36%), Northeast Asia (22%), India and Southeast Asia (17%), and South America (11%). Other trading partners include the Mediterranean region, Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and the Caribbean.
The Port of Charleston offers some of the deepest water in the South Atlantic region. The Port of Charleston maintains a harbor depth of 13.7 meters (45 feet) and a channel depth of 14.3 meters (47 feet) at mean low tide, and it has a tidal lift of from 1.5 to 1.8 meters (five to six feet) that provides from 46 to 14.6 meters (48 feet) depth for ten hours each day. The entrance channel to the Port of Charleston is from 152 to 305 meters (500 to 1000 feet) wide.
The Port of Charleston has a robust local warehousing community that can handle every need. There are 14 rail-served warehouse facilities in the Port of Charleston with over 25 hectares of space. Each of these warehouses is served by either or both of the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads. The Port of Charleston will soon contain almost 186 hectares of prime industrial distribution centers. Over 105 hectares of these centers are scheduled within an hour's drive of Port of Charleston facilities.
In the future, the SCPA plans major capital projects to improve and expand the Port of Charleston. The Port of Charleston is building a new 113-hectare three-berth marine terminal at the old Charleston Naval Base. It is the only permitted port terminal being built in on the East Coast. The new terminal will become operational in 2018 and will increase the Port of Charleston's container-handling capacity by 50%. The Port of Charleston also plans to build a new downtown cruise facility.
In addition to these new facilities, the Port of Charleston has a new 10-hectare refrigerated container yard at its Wando Welch Terminal. In 2011, a new standard gate operating structure allowed for a 15% increase in Port of Charleston container space at the container facilities. The SCPA has also converted the Columbus Street Terminal into a state-of-the-art vehicle and non-containerized cargo terminal. The Port of Charleston is also working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for additional harbor deepening work that will accommodate the next-generation cargo vessels. In addition to new facilities, the Port of Charleston is undertaking improvements to existing facilities. A new terminal operating system will improve cargo-handling services.
The Port of Charleston's common-use Wando Welch Terminal is one of the Nation's leading container terminals, and it is the largest terminal in the Port of Charleston. Covering almost 280 hectares, the terminal contains 161 developed hectares and a 99.5-hectare container yard. The Wando Welch Terminal in the Port of Charleston offers over 28.7 thousand grounded container slots, 4.7 thousand wheeled slots, and 1205 reefer slots. The terminal has a 1.9-hectare container freight station. This Port of Charleston terminal contains four berths totaling over 1.1 kilometers (3800 feet) in length with alongside depth of 13.7 meters (45 feet) MLW. The Wando Welch Terminal in the Port of Charleston is equipped with 12 post-Panamax cranes, 30 rubber tyred gantry cranes, 19 toplifters, and 12 empty handlers. Near-dock rail services are provided by CSX Rail Transport and the Norfolk Southern Railway.
Operated by both the SCPA and Ceres Marine, the North Charleston Terminal handles containerized cargos and offers on-terminal rail access, an on-terminal container freight station, and direct access to Interstate Highways 26 and 526. This Port of Charleston terminal covers over 81 hectares, including 80 developed hectares and a 53-hectare container yard. The terminal offers over 19.6 thousand grounded container slots, 2319 wheeled slots, and 380 reefer slots. This Port of Charleston container terminal has 762 meters (2500 feet) of berths with alongside depth of 13.7 meters (45 feet) MLW. It is equipped with six post-Panamax cranes, eight rubber tyred gantry cranes, 24 toplifters, and five empty handlers. The terminal is served by both on-dock and near-dock rail services from both CSX and Norfolk Southern, and switching is handled by South Carolina Public Railways.
The Veterans Terminal in the Port of Charleston is dedicated to breakbulk and non-container cargoes. This 44.5-hectare facility on the Cooper River is fully secured for bulk, breakbulk, roll-on/roll-off, and project cargoes. The Port of Charleston's Veterans Terminal offers long-term outside storage and covered sprinkler-protected warehouse space. The Veterans Terminal has four berths with alongside depth of 10.67 meters (35 feet). Pier Lima has berthing distance of 290 meters (952 feet). Pier Mike has berthing distance of 335 meters (1100 feet). Pier November has berthing distance of 350.5 meters (1150 feet), and Pier Zulu has berthing distance of 381 meters (1250 feet). The Port of Charleston's Veterans Terminal mobile cranes are provided by the Charleston Heavy Lift LLC, a joint venture between JE Oswalt & Sons Inc. and Stevens Towing Company Inc. The Veterans Terminal offers lifting equipment for truck-to-ship, rail to storage yard, and truck to storage yard cargo movements. On-site rail services are provided by both CSX and Norfolk Southern.
The Port of Charleston's Columbus Street Terminal serves both roll-on/roll-off and breakbulk cargoes and supports vehicle-handling, transloading, and movement of project cargoes. A combination breakbulk and container terminal, the Columbus Street Terminal in the Port of Charleston is a true multi-purpose facility that can handle bulk, breakbulk, rolling stock, heavy-lift, and project cargo. The terminal covers almost 63 hectares, including 54.6 developed hectares. The terminal includes almost ten acres for the wharf, almost 18 hectares for roll-on/roll-off cargo, over ten hectares for breakbulk operations, and two hectares for heavy lift cargo. This Port of Charleston terminal has 4.4 hectares of rail yards and over seven hectares of miscellaneous handling areas.
The Columbus Street Terminal in the Port of Charleston has berthing distance of 762 meters (3500 feet) with alongside depth of 13.72 meters (45 feet). The terminal is equipped with three post-Panamax cranes and mobile cranes with capacity for up to 500 short tons provided by the Charleston Heavy Lift LLC. The Columbus Street Terminal offers lifting capacity for direct rail-to-ship, direct truck-to-ship, and rail and truck to storage yard. The terminal has on-dock rail services provided by both CSX and Norfolk Southern. Rail services include boxcars, vehicle-transport railcars, and overweight/over-size railcars. SC Public Railways provides switching services. The terminal has easy access to Interstate Highway 26.
The Union Pier Terminal in the Port of Charleston is dedicated to breakbulk and roll-on/roll-off cargoes, and it houses the Port of Charleston's cruise berth and passenger terminal. Handling hundreds of thousands of vehicles each year, the Union Pier Terminal offers almost 753 meters (2470 feet) of continuous berth space with alongside depth of 10.7 meters (35 feet). The terminal contains more than 4.6 hectares of sprinkler-protected transit sheds. The warehouses and dockside open storage areas are served by the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads. Less than one-hour's travel from the open ocean, the Union Pier Terminal has easy access to Interstate Highway 26. It offers covered rail access to all warehouses, concrete- and asphalt-paved open storage areas, and smooth transitions between dockside aprons and ground-level open storage.
The Port of Charleston has been a popular tourist destination for many years. The Port of Charleston is opening a new state-of-the-art cruise terminal that will be located at the northern end of the existing Union Pier Terminal. When the new terminal opens, over 12 hectares at the southern end of the Union Pier Terminal will be redeveloped for non-maritime uses that will serve Charleston residents, increase public access to the city's historic waterfront, and support the local economy.
The Port of Charleston's Union Pier Concept Plan would relocate cargo operations at Union Pier, also eliminating freight train traffic at the pier. The move would relocate up to 200 cargo vessel calls away from Union Pier, significantly reducing the industrial footprint on the Port of Charleston waterfront.
Both CSX Rail Transport and Norfolk Southern Railway offer daily express services to the Port of Charleston. Both railroads also operate big and well-equipped rail yards near the Port of Charleston. The Wando Welch Terminal in the Port of Charleston receives intermodal service via direct dray-to-railhead connections. Dock-side rail services, including double-stack trains and capacity for over-size cargo, are provided to the North Charleston, Columbus Street, and Union Pier Terminals.
The busy Interstate Highway 26 is within 3.2 kilometers (two miles) of all terminals in the Port of Charleston. I-26 offers direct access to Interstates 95, 77, 20, 85, and 40. More than 150 trucking companies operate in the Port of Charleston offering a wide range of freight services.