SOUTH CAROLINA’S PORTS SYSTEM GETS SOMETHING RIGHT
FITSNews – July 27, 2008 – It’s been a decade of missed opportunities for the feeble-minded, status quo Stalinites who run South Carolina’s State Ports Authority.
While other states have opened gleaming new terminals using innovative public-private partnerships, South Carolina has repeatedly said “no thanks” to billions of dollars worth of job-creating capital investment, insisting instead on an outdated “total state control” model of port management that demands taxpayers pick up the tab.
As a result, the Port of Charleston’s competitive position has been dropping like a rock due to lack of capacity, while at the same time the last, best deep-water port site on the Eastern Seaboard (located on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River) has lain fallow while lawyers and bureaucrats wrangled over their turf.
Sadder still, Gov. Mark Sanford failed to show leadership in removing two main culprits of South Carolina’s institutional ineptitude – Ports Authority board members Bill Stern and Carroll A. “Tumpy” Campbell III – although he finally woke up and got rid of Campbell seven months ago.
Today, however, a new chapter appears to be opening in the history of South Carolina’s port system, one written in large part by former Sanford Chief of Staff Tom Davis – a chapter which has the potential to become the biggest economic development success story in our state’s history.
According to this morning’s Beaufort Gazette, the Georgia Department of Transportation has formally transferred ownership of the coveted 1,500-acre Jasper County (S.C.) port site to a bi-state partnership former over a year ago by Governor Sanford and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.
The deal announcing this bi-state partnership – details of which were broken exclusively by FITSNews last March – includes provisions which “expressly permit” the new container facility to avail itself of the sort of public-private partnerships historically rejected by our state.
As a result of South Carolina’s failure to engage these public-private partnerships in Charleston, that port has slipped from the nation’s fourth-busiest in 2005 to the its eighth-busiest today.
In fact, Gov. Sanford and House Speaker Bobby Harrell were specifically warned by shipping industry officials back in 2006 that South Carolina’s failure to embrace modern port management models would cost our state additional business, but neither leader took action.
So why is adding port capacity in Charleston and at the new Jasper County terminal so important for our state?
Well, South Carolina has already missed out on one shipping boom – the recent explosion in Asian cargo traffic that has fueled successful public-private expansions in competing states like Alabama, Florida, Virginia and Texas.
But another boom is coming to the shipping industry beginning in 2015, when a $5 billion widening of the Panama Canal will be complete.
Assuming both South Carolina and Georgia’s legislatures approve the bi-state compact (and assuming kooky environmentalists don’t derail the permitting process) the Jasper County terminal would open in 2017 – two years late by the world’s time, to be sure, but light years ahead of where South Carolina has traditionally found itself in a globally-competitive world.
Kudos to Davis for his vision and leadership on this critical issue, and let’s hope Gov. Sanford uses his remaining time in office to consistently advance the cause of free market port expansion instead of sitting back while campaign contributors like Bill Stern run our port system into the ground.