With container traffic at the Port of Charleston slipping at an alarming rate, tensions are unusually high at the S.C. State Ports Authority (SPA) these days.
Declining numbers, the potential loss of its largest client and a legislative proposal to disband its board are among the headaches facing the agency this Christmas season – and are all stories we’ll have more on in the coming days.
Let’s start with the obvious – business isn’t exactly booming at the port these days.
Between July and November of this year, container traffic is down 4.4% compared with the same time last year. Last month, however, the numbers fell by 13% compared to last November – a sign that the national recession is beginning to sink its teeth into an operation that wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire in the first place.
In fact, if the gradual erosion of the Port of Charleston’s competitive position during good economic times is any indication, we can’t wait to see how these Marxist-Leninsts handle a prolonged economic downturn.
Sadly, we may not have to wait that long, as based on what we’re hearing SPA leadership is already handling it in the worst possible way.
SPA officials have effectively forced their largest client “between a rock and a hard place,” at least that’s what we’re being told by sources familiar with the negotiations between port officials, labor bosses and Maersk-Sealand, which is responsible for 25% of the container traffic that passes through the port each year.
In fact, Maersk is reportedly close to leaving Charleston altogether, which would be a tremendous blow to the state’s economy.
Having already lost considerable ground to our neighboring states in the years leading up to the recession, South Carolina simply cannot afford to have Maersk bolt.
More on that later …
In the meantime, the SPA is dealing with a new bill drafted by former House Majority Leader Jimmy Merrill that would eliminate the agency’s board and divest its authority into a Cabinet-level director.
What this change intends to accomplish is unclear, however.
South Carolina’s governors already have exclusive appointment power over the SPA board, which as we’ve noted in the past is a rare executive control that has been tragically squandered by S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford.
Specifically, Sanford appointed a prominent fundraiser to run the board but then balked at removing him when it became clear that this longtime political gadfly, Columbia businessman Bill Stern, did not share Sanford’s free market approach to port management.
In fact, as far as we can tell Merrill’s bill fits the whole “deck chairs on the Titanic” expression better than any piece of legislation we’ve seen in some time … which is saying a lot in a state like South Carolina.
Anyway, needless to say we’ll be following all of these stories closely over the days and weeks to come …