- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Cargo volume moving through the state’s ports was up sharply during the first half of fiscal 2015, and while the outlook is for continued growth, it won’t be as rapid, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority President said Wednesday.

Jim Newsome told the authority board that imports were up 15 percent during the first six months of the fiscal year ending June 30. Exports increased 7 percent over the previous year.

“The strong first half of fiscal ‘15 won’t be repeated in half two,” Newsome said. “The export picture is a little uncertain short term, but that doesn’t really change our long-term thesis that we’re going to grow through exports.”

Newsome said the strong dollar and depressed oil prices are expected to dampen American exports in the immediate future.

For the remainder of the fiscal year, Newsome predicts growth of between 6 percent and 8 percent. That’s slower, but a rate that would still be twice the average of American ports, Newsome said.

As evidence that things are busy, the authority this month began opening its Charleston-area terminals an hour earlier each weekday morning and will open terminals on Saturdays beginning next month.

Also, during the 2014 calendar year the authority handled more than 1 million shipping containers for the first time since the Great Recession. The busiest year for containers in port history was 2005, when 1.1 million containers moved through.

Newsome said the authority continues to work to grow by attracting new business.

He said the authority is working with the State Commerce Department to land 47 development projects statewide, including 12 distribution centers that would use the port.

The board approved a contract for $260,000 with a company that will test the piles on the docks at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant. It’s part of a $3 million project to repair and improve the terminal to handle larger container ships and the cranes that load and unload them.

In a related development, the board agreed to spend $7 million to move three existing smaller cranes from its Wando Terminal to its North Charleston Terminal. Three cranes at North Charleston are being retired.

Another contract for almost $600,000 is for design work at the Columbus Street Terminal in downtown Charleston so it can be renovated to handle container cargo.

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