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Port sees revenues, pier container volumes increase

Charleston Regional Business Journal
August 17, 2011

Pier container volumes rose for the first time since 2005 during fiscal year 2011, and the S.C. State Ports Authority exceeded its planned levels of operating revenue and other metrics.

The ports authority presented its results from FY2011 during a board meeting Tuesday. The port handled 803,000 pier containers, up 8% compared to FY2010. Operating revenues rose 12% to $124.6 million compared to last year, while earnings rose from $8.4 million to $16.6 million.

During FY2011, the ports authority diversified its business and focused on cruise ships and break-bulk and roll-on, roll-off cargo, according to the presentation. Cruise business more than doubled this year compared to last year, with the port recording 178,518 cruise passengers during the year.

The ports authority also dedicated the Columbus Street Terminal to break-bulk and roll-on, roll-off cargo, spending $22 million to repave and upgrade the terminal. Break-bulk and bulk cargo grew 22%.

Board Chairman Bill Stern said the port is not where it wants to be but is moving in the right direction. Many businesses would be envious of the port’s revenue numbers and bottom line, he said.

“We are running a very strong, well-managed business,” Stern said.

Ports CEO Jim Newsome said the ports authority still has a lot to do.

“We’ve got to grow above the market no matter what the market does,” Newsome said. “And we’re all out engaged in that.”

The ports authority board also approved the payment of incentives to crane operators, the general workforce and executives based on performance. Sixty crane operators evenly split a pot of $300,000 in bonuses, while the general workforce of 374 received varying bonuses from a total of $450,000.

Newsome, the ports’ senior vice presidents and vice presidents — a total of 14 executives — received bonuses from a pot of $295,000. According to state law, the board is required to vote on Newsome’s incentives, which came to $61,000. The board approved his incentives.

At the beginning of the fiscal year, the board approved a new executive incentives program that called for 60% of incentives to be based on volume and the remaining 40% based on cash flow.

Also during the board meeting, Stern explained his dissenting vote to approve the budget for the Jasper Ocean Terminal, a joint project between the S.C. and Georgia ports authorities.

The budget passed 5-1 in July. Stern said he was explaining his position for the new board members who began their terms in the prior few months. The Jasper budget includes a payment for a study to determine the types of dredging debris to be dumped on the site that will host the Jasper site. Without the study, consultants said the ports authority may have to spend more money later to sort the dredging debris and remove any contaminated debris.

“My point is, I don’t buy that argument,” Stern told the board members.

Stern said he voted against the budget because he thinks no more money should be spent by South Carolina until the state can determine if the Savannah River can be deepened to 50 feet to the Jasper terminal and if the river can handle two-way traffic. Stern said the state ports authority isn’t interested in proceeding with the Jasper project if it doesn’t satisfy the depth and traffic requirements.

Stern compared the issue to a developer paying for fill dirt before the developer knows whether he got the project.

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