Posted on April 27, 2017
By David Wren, The Post and Courier
The record-breaking level of cargo moving through the Port of Charleston has had some unintended — and expensive —consequences, with a maintenance dredging project repeatedly having to move to the sidelines as container vessels take precedence at Wando Welch Terminal.
The State Ports Authority‘s bill for dredging the berths came in at nearly 54 percent over budget because of what’s known as “stand-by time” — the period when a dredge has to move out of the way to make room for a ship that’s loading and unloading cargo.
The SPA’s initial contract with Southern Dredging Co. called for an $818,400 payment to remove the silt and sediment that normally builds up along the Wando River terminal. The final tally climbed to $1.25 million, including $447,000 for stand-by time when no work was being completed.
“We had an unusually high stand-by time, which goes to how efficient our team runs the berths,” said Jim Van Ness, the maritime agency’s director of engineering and facilities maintenance.
Wando Welch’s berths are utilized more than 70 percent of the time the terminal is open, among the highest rate for U.S. ports, according to statistics compiled by Tioga Group. Add to that a record amount of cargo moving on the 16 container ships that call on the Mount Pleasant docks each week and there was little time left for dredging.
“Our dredging contractor had a lot of waiting time for ships to make their calls and get in and out of the way,” Van Ness said, adding that the terminal did not miss any ship calls while the dredging took place in February.
That’s all the more impressive seeing how the terminal is operating at less than full strength, said Jim Newsome, the SPA’s president and CEO.
Wando Welch, built in the late 1970s, has been undergoing repairs and improvements since 2015 to strengthen the wharf where ships tie up. That means a terminal that normally has room for three container vessels at a time can only handle two as the SPA works on each berth separately.
“It has operated for over a year as a two-berth terminal, and we’ve had some record volume during that time,” Newsome said. “So we’ve had some pretty patient customers and great work by our team.”
Improvements at the terminal are expected to wrap up later this year, putting all three berths in operation. Barbara Melvin, the SPA’s vice president of operations and terminals, said that should reduce the stand-by time — and expenses — the next time dredging needs to take place.
A similar dredging project at the SPA’s Columbus Street Terminal, which primarily handles roll-on and roll-off cargo, also came in over budget — $695,438 instead of $669,600 — but that was due to more material being dredged than was originally estimated.
The dredging projects at Wando Welch and Columbus Street on the peninsula are part of regular maintenance of the waterways at those terminals and aren’t related to the SPA’s plan to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet. That project, which will give Charleston the deepest navigational channel on the East Coast, is expected to begin later this year and finish by late 2019.
Source: The Post and Courier