Raising a red flag?

According to an August 7th story in the Charleston Post and Courier, after an uncharacteristic grilling of the State Ports Authority’s executive director, South Carolina lawmakers’ concerns were left largely unresolved.

Last Wednesday’s meeting at North Charleston’s City Hall was packed, but after acknowledging and validating the port’s inherent shortcomings, House Majority Leader and ports subcommittee Chairman Jim Merrill said, “We all nod our heads, end the meeting and walk out. It gets very frustrating.”

It gets very frustrating because no one, in or out of the port, knows how to operate a container terminal. “More than one attempt has been made to correspond with port and political authorities of that beautiful state,” we reported three weeks ago ( in Art. 10), “but nothing ever came of it. We even put on a dog-and-pony show one day but we ‘bombed’ because very few attended the presentation. Exactly no one from the SPA put in an appearance, but we weren’t surprised. We had previously laid out for them the operating efficiencies of our patented systems and demonstrated that the acreage in two, and possibly three, of their existing terminals would no longer be needed for container handling operations. The acreage, we suggested, could therefore be turned back to the communities for redevelopment. They weren’t buying it.”

SPA officials are good at selling, however. Even though the port’s container volume dropped 10 percent in the same fiscal year that saw neighboring rival Savannah grow at an impressive 14.5 percent, those officials are not at all bashful about requesting hundreds of millions of dollars from South Carolina taxpayers for one kind of upgrading or another – or what’s even more wasteful, for the development of still one more container port at the former Navy base in North Charleston.

A privately-owned business with such a consistent losing record would have long since folded, but because the state’s taxpayers ( and lawmakers) are intimidated at the sight of a massive container port, cargo (mis)handling is allowed to proceed without interruption.

But maybe there’s a ray of hope. Maybe. There seems to have been a purpose for the meeting last Wednesday because, to the surprise of some, the executive director was put on the hot seat. Some heavy-hitters were in attendance and some appropriate questions were aimed at the director, but even though hazy responses were given and the meeting was described as “frustrating”, it was obvious that an agenda had been drawn up by a higher authority.

Port inactivity and reduced employment among longshoremen were noted by State Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, and those particular developments will bring a red flag every time.

Savannah grew at 14.5 percent? And Charleston, after its multiple terminals dropped 10 percent and cut back the hours of its longshoremen, is seeking funding for still another terminal? Where would that funding actually end up? In Panama, maybe?