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SC's inland port to be operational next month

Bruce Smith, Associated Press

Crews load a container ship at the South Carolina State Ports Authority's Wando Terminal in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Sept. 16, 2013. The authority board learned Tuesday that container volume through the South Carolina ports during July and August increased 4 percent over the previous year. It was also told that the agency's new inland port in Greer, S.C., will be operational next month. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina's $25 million inland port is set to open next month, a little later than expected because of this year's heavy rains, according to an update on three terminal projects given Tuesday to the board of the agency operating the state's ports.

Jim Newsome, the president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, said data tests will start Friday using the computers that will track shipments through the inland port providing a direct rail link between Greer, S.C., and the state's coast.

"We are in good shape with this," Newsome said, adding that heavy rains caused crews to lose 72 days of work time. The original opening date had been in early September.

Once open, the terminal is expected to eliminate as many as 50,000 truck trips a year on busy Interstate 626 between Charleston and the Greenville-Spartanburg area.

The terminal is part of $1.3 billion in capital improvements the ports are undertaking during the next decade.

One of those projects is a $525 million container terminal at the old Charleston Naval Base now under construction and expected to open in 2019.

David Kinard, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation, told the board work on a road linking the port with Interstate 26 in North Charleston could begin as early as 2015.

But he said that depends on exactly when the new terminal is going to open and the authority providing $100 million toward the project's $282 million construction cost.

Land acquisition is already underway and the last federal permit needed for the project, from the Federal Highway Administration, was issued last week. Under agreements with local governments, the access road must be completed before the terminal opens.

The authority is also working with Georgia on the Jasper Ocean Terminal, a $5 billion terminal on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. When that is expected to come online is not yet certain with the terminal being planned for when container capacity at both the South Carolina and Georgia ports is exhausted.

David Posek, who represents the South Carolina Ports on the Ocean Terminal board, said Tuesday the two states are redrafting the agreement under which the port will be built.

He said the first redraft is expected in a few weeks and will then go to members of the General Assembly and Gov. Nikki Haley. He said talks with Georgia are expected in November and hopefully a new agreement will be reached by the end of the year.

The board on Tuesday also re-elected Bill Stern of Columbia for a new two-year term as chairman.

It also learned that container volume through the state's ports increased 4 percent during July and August compared to the same months last year. The August volume was the highest in almost five years.