Social distancing isn’t new at South Carolina ports

South Carolina ports were practicing social distancing before it became a directive from the federal government.

“Our environment here on the port is actually pretty well set up for social distancing, if you think about it. Most of our operators are in machines or in cranes. They’re really sort of individually doing things. They don’t have face-to-face contact with people so much during the day,” South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) President and CEO Jim Newsome said in a video update on the coronavirus Monday.

The SCPA’s ports in Charleston, Greer and Dillon all are operating normally for truck gates and vessels.

“We’re working full steam,” Newsome said.

Still, the SCPA is monitoring the pandemic closely.

“We don’t really have a playbook for all this. This is kind of a fluid situation,” Newsome said.

“As long as the ships are calling, we’ll be working. We have an obligation to keep the supply chain fluid.”

Newsome said the SCPA’s gate system also makes social distancing easier.

“We took an important step a few years ago in our gate system, whereby gates are processed remotely,” he said. “There’s no face-to-face contact between the people doing those transactions and the truck drivers. We do sanitize the kiosks very frequently so that is an important step that we’re taking. We think the environment is good to encourage the idea of social distancing.”

Employees in the SCPA’s administrative office are separated in standing-height cubes and the building is disinfected frequently, Newsome said, adding that the staff also has access to an onsite cafeteria and nurse practitioner.

“I think we’re very well prepared for this, as best prepared as we possibly can be,” he said.

Newsome praised the actions of the Trump administration.

“We think they put a great task force together to really address this issue, and we believe that we’ll get through this in a productive way,” he said.

The SCPA is coming off a record February. There were 197,214 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) moved across the Wando Welch and North Charleston container terminals in February. Loaded export TEUs were up nearly 20% and loaded import TEUs were up about 14% over last February, both of which are record levels for that month.

“These volumes are bright spots amid much uncertainty in the global market,” Newsome said earlier this month. “While we do expect our volumes will be down in March and April due to impacts from the coronavirus, we anticipate a rebound in May and June to finish the [fiscal] year above plan.”

The SCPA said Tuesday that work is on track and the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal is expected to open in March 2021.The terminal initially will have five cranes with 169 feet of lift height and 228 feet of outreach, as well as 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes. There also will be a 1,400-foot wharf capable of handling up to 19,000-TEU vessels. When it opens, the terminal will provide the SCPA an additional 700,000 TEUs of capacity.

Also on Tuesday, the SCPA board approved a professional services agreement with Lowe, the owner of the Wild Dunes Resort and developer of the new Cooper Hotel on Charleston Harbor, to handle the sale of the nonmaritime portion of Union Pier for redevelopment.

The entitlement process entails master planning, design and community collaboration, according to the SCPA, which said the process is estimated to last between 30 and 36 months. Once finalized, Lowe will work on behalf of the SCPA to sell the nonmaritime portion of Union Pier.