Construction underway for $35 million project, due for completion in September
When dignitaries, group after group, on cue for the cameras, put their shovels into the ground in Greer last Friday, they were giving a ceremonial start to what is believed to be the first inland port of its kind.
For this afternoon, the earth movers that had been preparing the ground for weeks went silent for the speechmaking.
The public and private officials, the regular folks and the press were there for the breaking of ground on what speakers heralded as a unique inland terminal to collect and receive goods by rail, road and air from the world’s waterways.
“We’ve got trucks, we’ve got rail, we’ve got air,” said Gov. Nikki Haley. “This a historic day in South Carolina.”
She couldn’t resist a playful jab at states competing with South Carolina for industry: “The more they try to keep up with us, they just can’t keep up.”
Haley was just one of nine public or corporate officials who spoke of the coming landlocked port as akin in importance to BMW’s decision more than two decades ago to build its North American assembly plant in Spartanburg County.
Indeed, the inland port is coming about because BMW approached the Norfolk Southern Railway for a rail alternative to highways for moving its nation-leading export of vehicles 212 miles to the Port of Charleston, then to overseas markets. It promises to be the biggest user of the inland port.
The Upstate terminal, which will be operated by the South Carolina Port Authority, will have 552 slots for containers on 40 developed acres.
The SCPA estimates the initial capacity will be around 40,000 containers annually with potential to handle as many as 100,000 in five years. Three rubber-tiered gantry cranes will lift containers on and off Norfolk Southern flatbeds.
Two 2,600-foot working tracks will connect to the NS mainline. In addition, NS will have 5,200 feet of storage tracks with room for expansion.
Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the SCPA, said the facility will be completed and in operation in September, just 18 months from the time NS approached the authority about building it.
But, he said, the inland port “has been 30 years in the making,” a reference to the 1982 decision to acquire approximately 100 acres in Greer for an inland terminal, a project that gained no traction until NS approached the Port Authority in January 2012.
When envisioned it was an innovative idea “before its time, and its day has come,” Newsome said.
In the meantime, SCPA sold all but 30 acres of the land to the airport. What was left was not enough to do the inland port, Newsome said, so the airport commission leased back 60-plus acres to make it work.
The total cost of the project is $35 million, the SCPA said. NS is paying 25 percent of the cost under contract with the SCPA, a spokesman said.
“This is truly special, ” said Mike McClellan, vice president for intermodal and automotive marketing for the railroad. “We’re sharing the risk and we are sharing in the upside, and I think there will be considerable upside.”
The short-haul overnight trips between Greer and North Charleston are something of a departure for railroads that historically saw more economic benefit in long-haul shipping.
Newsome said the Port of Charleston “would not exist without the Upstate,” which has the highest concentration of international shippers through the port of any region in the state. Of the port’s in-state cargo, 60 percent originates here.
The Greer terminal will enhance the area’s position as the fastest-growing region along the I-85 corridor, he said.
Minor Shaw, chairwoman of the GSP Airport Commission, said the location of the inland port adjacent to the airport, along the rail line and close by I-85 provides industries with unique accessibility to all modes of transportation.
She said it “no doubt will attract the attention of companies” looking to locate on land the airport commission has set aside for development.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said the two engines of South Carolina’s economy – the Upstate and the Lowlands – “are now connected.” One out of every five jobs in the state can be attributed to the Port of Charleston, he said.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott said he believes the Greer inland port “will be a model for the nation.”
Spartanburg Councilman Tim Britt called the inland port “transformational for a lifetime to come.”
Greer Mayor Richard Danner said he had never seen “so many people, important people” at a groundbreaking. He called it a “historic day” for the city.
Paul Fisher, CEO of CenterPoint Properties, which is constructing the facility and was the developer for the nation’s largest inland port at Joliet, Ill., said the Greer facility would be “the model for the future.”