Charleston-area project ignites debate over port cargo vs. truck traffic

Date: Friday, September 20, 2019
Source: The Post and Courier

The State Ports Authority is ready to invest $750,000 to help lure another distributor of resin pellets to the Charleston area, but concerns over the amount of truck traffic the company would generate threaten to scuttle the deal.

The maritime agency’s board voted this week to spend the money on new public roads and utilities within the former Carolina Nurseries site near Moncks Corner if governments can reach an agreement over tax breaks and other incentives for the unidentified business.

“We agreed to assist the owner of the (property) because we believe that (investment) will convert into a significant number of containers” going to the Port of Charleston for export, said Jim Newsome, the authority’s president and CEO.

The Keith Corp., a Charlotte-based real estate developer, has filed environmental permit applications to develop the site, which currently is owned by an affiliate The Intertech Group Inc. of North Charleston.

Newsome has targeted resin pellets — the tiny plastic beads that are the main ingredient in hundreds of household goods — as a key cargo commodity to help diversify the port’s manufacturing base.

The company — which goes by the “Project Monk” code name — is meeting resistance from some members of Berkeley County Council, who say it would add to already clogged traffic along U.S. Highway 52 and hurt the quality of life for residents of nearby neighborhoods such as the Stoney Creek subdivision.

“There comes a point where people’s lives are being impacted just for the sake of industry and dollars. It’s just not right,” Councilman Steve Davis said during an Aug. 26 meeting.

The committee that day voted 5-1 against an incentive plan that would cut the company’s property taxes.

Barry Jurs, economic development director for the county, said the company behind Project Monk is willing to invest $61.5 million and create up to 60 jobs that pay an average of $21 per hour.

The pellets, made from gases created in fracking for natural gas, would move to the Moncks Corner site via a CSX Corp. rail line linked to Gulf Coast refineries. They would be loaded into cargo containers and sent by trucks to the Port of Charleston.

Jurs said the operation would generate about 70 daily truck trips, but council members said the number would likely be much higher because drivers will try to make as many round trips as possible to boost their revenue.

“I think it’s a good company, but my concern is the effect it’s going to put on our existing infrastructure,” said Councilman Jack Schurlknight. “We’re way over capacity now on these roads.”

“I just don’t think we need all these trucks and the round trips and additional people coming to that site,” added Councilman Kevin Cox.

There also are environmental concerns. Resin pellets transporter Frontier Logistics was cited in July for violating the state Pollution Control Act after a spill at its Charleston-based operation led to thousands of tiny pellets washing up on the beach at Sullivan’s Island.

Newsome of the SPA said the Carolina Nurseries site is ideal for such a business because there are few local industrial areas with existing rail access.

“There aren’t that many opportunities, and this one is important,” he said. “The amount of volume that can be developed here is significant.”

Newsome estimates the company could eventually move 20,000 containers of pellets per year from Moncks Corner to the port.

That would match the volume Frontier Logistics expects to move after it completes a $35.5 million rail-served facility on former Navy Base property in North Charleston. That site is targeted for a mid-2020 completion.

Other resin pellet transporters that have located to the Charleston area in recent years include A&R Bulk-Pak and Mid-States Packaging.

Most resin pellet exports leave from ports in the Gulf Coast, but some refineries are moving more of their product to Southeast ports as a hedge against bad weather and transportation issues.

Newsome said he expects 100,000 containers worth of pellets will be shipped to Southeast ports in coming years. “If we can get half of that I’d be happy,” he said.

Berkeley County Council is expected to discuss incentives for the company during a closed session before its meeting on Monday. If an agreement is ultimately reach, the company plans to make a formal announcement on Oct. 21 at the S.C. International Trade Conference in Charleston.

 

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