South Carolina Ports made history welcoming the first vessel to the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal, marking the first container terminal to open in the U.S. since 2009.
Operations launched March 30 with the arrival of the first container, followed by the first ship arrival with Hapag Lloyd’s Yorktown Express.
“The Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal is an investment in the future of South Carolina that will spur economic development, create jobs, and further our state’s position as an international business destination for years to come,” Governor Henry McMaster said. “This project is a momentous achievement which highlights the strengths of Team South Carolina. I congratulate the South Carolina Ports Authority and everyone who has worked towards achieving this historic day.”
The Leatherman Terminal, which has been 20 years in the making, is a generational milestone for SC Ports and for South Carolina. The terminal sits along the Cooper River in North Charleston, S.C., near Charleston Harbor. Its cranes can be seen throughout the region — the changed skyline serving as a reminder of Charleston’s success as a port city.
The Leatherman Terminal can efficiently work the biggest ships calling on East Coast ports. Phase One adds 700,000 TEUs of throughput capacity to the Port of Charleston.
SC Ports CEO Jim Newsome said that the opening of the terminal comes at just the right time, as U.S. container ports continue to handle unprecedented cargo volumes amid strong consumer demand. SC Ports had an all-time cargo record in March, with a 50% year-over-year increase in loaded imports.
The arrival of the first ship at the Leatherman Terminal signifies the opening of the first container terminal in the U.S. since 2009.
“SC Ports is extremely proud to open the first container terminal in the U.S. since 2009 in South Carolina. This took years of effort by our team and project partners,” Newsome said. “We have invested in the right infrastructure at the right time to handle growing cargo volumes and bigger ships, ensuring SC Ports remains a top 10 U.S. container port. The Leatherman Terminal adds a berth and more capacity to the Port of Charleston when it is most needed on the East Coast. We made history today as we advance SC Ports’ capabilities and enhance South Carolina’s supply chain for generations to come. Tomorrow is here at SC Ports.”
Capabilities and capacity
The state-of-the-art Leatherman Terminal strengthens SC Ports’ big-ship capabilities and provides much-needed capacity to the East Coast. Its equipment, technology and design provide reliable, efficient service to customers.
Its 1,400-foot berth can handle a 20,000-TEU vessel. Five electric ship-to-shore cranes with 169 feet of lift height and 228 feet of outreach stand on the berth, ready to move cargo on and off container ships. These cranes are among the tallest on the East Coast.
The Leatherman Terminal’s 47-acre container yard has 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes and eight empty container handlers to efficiently move cargo boxes around the terminal. The rubber-tired gantry cranes are designed to reduce emissions and energy consumption.
A six-acre refrigerated cargo area has six-story tall refrigerated container racks, enabling SC Ports to handle more fresh, refrigerated and frozen goods.
At full buildout, the $2 billion Leatherman Terminal will have three berths and 286 acres, adding 2.4 million TEUs of annual throughput capacity, doubling current capacity.
Building the terminal
SC Ports filed permits in 2003 to develop a container terminal on the south end of the former Navy Base in North Charleston, S.C. Permit approvals were received in 2007. Site work began in 2007 and continued through 2018; work included demolishing old buildings and preparing the former Navy Base site to handle port operations.
Site preparation was extensive, involving driving more than 6,300 miles of wick drains into the site to draw out water, and barging 6 million yards of sand and crushed rock to the site for fill material — yielding a flat, even surface on which to build the terminal.
Site development and construction kicked off in 2018. Building the terminal was like building a small city. The site needed a complete road system, electricity, utilities and buildings. An expansive container yard and wharf had to be built, and the arrival, testing and commissioning of 30 cranes had to be coordinated.
Meanwhile, the S.C. Department of Transportation built the Port Access Road to provide motor carriers a direct connection between Interstate 26 and the Leatherman Terminal.
This all required great collaboration, with hundreds of people from every engineering discipline working together on the site every day. The project was finished on time and under budget.
The SC Ports’ engineering team worked with many contractors, including HDR Inc., Banks Construction Co., Samet Corp., Cape Romain/McLean A Joint Venture and Cape Romain Contractors Inc. Nearly 80% of the dollars spent on construction contracts were awarded to S.C.-based firms.
“It is an incredibly exciting day to welcome the first ship and hear the bustle of terminal operations at the Leatherman Terminal,” SC Ports COO Barbara Melvin said. “Building and operating a port is like orchestrating an intricate ballet. This momentous and historic achievement is the result of tremendous collaboration among our entire team — particularly our excellent engineers — and numerous project partners, and through the support of our elected leaders. We are thrilled to operate this world-class facility with the broader maritime community, ensuring efficient operations and capacity for decades to come.”
The $1 billion investment to build Phase One is among the state’s biggest and most significant economic development projects to date. Its impact will be felt by waterfront workers and S.C. businesses for decades to come.
The Leatherman Terminal greatly enhances South Carolina’s supply chain, and a well-run port with capacity is an attractive asset for companies.
“SC Ports has long been the economic engine of South Carolina, and the opening of the Leatherman Terminal will generate more investments in our communities and high-paying jobs for South Carolinians,” said Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman, the terminal’s namesake. “SC Ports has seen tremendous growth over the past decade as bigger cargo ships continually call on the Port of Charleston. The modern container terminal greatly expands SC Ports’ capacity and capabilities. It gives me immense pride to see the Leatherman Terminal begin operations, the culmination of 20 years of hard work. The Leatherman Terminal, combined with the many strategic infrastructure investments made by the port, will have a positive impact on our state for generations to come.”
The Leatherman Terminal is part of SC Ports’ $2 billion infrastructure investment plan, which also involves enhancing Wando Welch Terminal. With these combined investments, SC Ports can handle four 14,000-TEU vessels simultaneously — an impressive capability that few U.S. ports can offer.
The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is on track to achieve 52 feet of depth this year, making it the deepest harbor on the East Coast. SC Ports also looks to develop near-dock rail capabilities with the future Navy Base Intermodal Facility, located about a mile from the Leatherman Terminal, and an inner-harbor barge system.
“South Carolina’s successful supply chain is a direct result of the strategic investments made in port infrastructure that allows us to handle bigger ships and more cargo,” SC Ports Board Chairman Bill Stern said. “The opening of the Leatherman Terminal is a hugely significant milestone for SC Ports and for South Carolina as a whole, setting us up for continued success.”
“The opening of the Leatherman Terminal is a big win for South Carolina. More cargo moving through the Port of Charleston is crucial to our state’s growth. The Leatherman Terminal’s big-ship capabilities and cargo capacity ensure South Carolina will remain globally competitive. SC Ports is the backbone of our state’s economy, and the growth of SC Ports helps to make sure the Palmetto State remains a great place to do business.” — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham
“Today is an exciting day for South Carolina and our country. After a year that highlighted the need for a strong and fluid supply chain, the opening of the Leatherman Terminal represents a critical next step in ensuring we have the infrastructure in place to support economic growth and job creation throughout our state and nation.” — U.S. Senator Tim Scott
“The opening of the Leatherman Terminal is a monumental achievement for South Carolina. This $1 billion project is one of our state’s biggest economic development projects to date. This impressive container terminal offers big-ship capabilities and cargo capacity to SC Ports’ customers, which will support jobs, investment and economic development in S.C. communities for generations to come.” — Congressman Jim Clyburn
“SC Ports has invested $1 billion to build a modern container terminal that sets South Carolina apart in terms of port competitiveness. A well-run port with big-ship capacity is a calling card for businesses looking to expand or build new facilities in the Lowcountry and throughout South Carolina. We celebrate this milestone today as we look forward to continued port-driven growth for our state.” — Congresswoman Nancy Mace
“The opening of the Leatherman Terminal is a truly amazing achievement, bringing more capacity online at the right time as bigger ships and more cargo continues to flow through the Port of Charleston. The Leatherman Terminal’s modern equipment will enable SC Ports to handle more cargo faster for our companies. This world-class container terminal, and the development of a near-dock rail facility and barge system, will enable SC Ports to efficiently handle more goods for decades to come, further supporting South Carolina’s economy. — Senator Larry Grooms, Chairman, Senate Transportation Committee and Port Oversight Commission
“SC Ports connects South Carolina businesses to global markets by providing an excellent port system. Today, we celebrate the opening of the Leatherman Terminal, an incredibly modern container terminal that greatly advances our state’s supply chain and expands SC Ports’ capacity.” — Representative Bill Sandifer, Vice Chairman, Senate Transportation Committee and Port Oversight Commission
“The opening of SC Ports’ modern container terminal will have a great economic impact on our state. More than half of the Port’s economic impact occurs in the Upstate. As more cargo flows through the Port of Charleston and Inland Port Greer, our Upstate businesses and communities will continue to benefit.” — Senator Harvey Peeler, President of the South Carolina Senate
“We are proud that South Carolina is the only state in the country to open a container terminal in more than a decade. We truly see the value of a competitive port for our citizens and businesses, with SC Ports creating 1 in 10 jobs statewide. The opening of the modern Leatherman Terminal, the ongoing work to deepen Charleston Harbor and the future Navy Base Intermodal Facility will yield generational benefits for our state.” — S.C. Speaker of the House Jay Lucas
“The Lowcountry sees the economic impact from SC Ports every day, with big ships sailing through Charleston Harbor and tall ship-to-shore cranes working on the horizon. With the opening of the Leatherman Terminal, the Charleston region and Senate District 42 is now home to the country’s first container terminal to open since 2009. This modern container terminal will provide reliable service to port-dependent businesses, ensuring a lasting economic impact for the Lowcountry and for South Carolina as a whole.” — Senator Marlon Kimpson
“The launch of operations at the Leatherman Terminal is a sign of continued growth for our region and for SC Ports. The container terminal enables more cargo to flow through the Port of Charleston, which attracts port-dependent businesses to invest in South Carolina, resulting in more economic opportunity in our communities. I am proud to have this infrastructure in House District 109.” — Representative Deon Tedder
“The City of North Charleston sees the opening of the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal as a sign of continued economic success for our city. The container terminal will attract more companies to the region, which will create good-paying jobs for our residents. North Charleston’s internationally known, business-friendly environment is ripe for businesses to flourish, in support of our communities.” — North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey
SC Ports team
“This has been a great collaborative job by our construction contractor partners, engineering consultants and the Port’s own Engineering team. The level of coordination exhibited by all of the project partners was the best I’ve seen in my nearly 40-year career. With a majority of the construction contracts issued to South Carolina based firms, we like to say the terminal was ‘Built by South Carolinians for South Carolina.’ Congratulations to the entire team for an outstanding job of bringing the Phase One project to a successful completion, on time and on budget.” — Walter Lagarenne, SC Ports’ Senior Director of Engineering and Facilities
“The complexities of building a container terminal require great teamwork and persistence over many years. I have worked on this project from the start, from overseeing site preparation and site development of the former Navy Base, to managing the day-to-day construction of building a world-class container terminal. It is an unforgettable and deeply rewarding moment to see 14 years of work culminate with the first ship arrival at the Leatherman Terminal.” — Butch Weber, SC Ports’ General Manager of Project Management and Construction
“Building Phase One of the Leatherman Terminal was a complex challenge that involved almost every discipline of engineering. The SC Ports team and our project partners made the decision to collaborate daily, resulting in creative, value-added designs for this critical project. It is an incredibly proud moment to see the completion of Phase One and welcome the first of many ships to call on the country’s first container terminal to open in more than a decade.” — Lucy Terza, SC Ports’ Engineering Project Manager
“The Leatherman Terminal has five electric ship-to-shore cranes and 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes. Our team oversaw the selection, design and fabrication of cranes overseas and then coordinated the equipment arrivals on a very active construction site. Following months of testing, these state-of-the-art cranes are ready to move containers on and off mega container ships and around the container yard. It is incredibly rewarding to see these massive pieces of cargo-handling equipment in action, resulting from years of planning.” — Ed Stehmeyer, SC Ports’ General Manager, Projects and Design
“HDR is honored to be a part of the team that built the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal by providing construction management services. The complexities of building a world-class container terminal required great collaboration and ingenuity. We are thrilled to see operations launch at the country’s first container terminal in more than a decade. Through great partnerships with SC Ports and the other contractors, this historic project is now realized. We are proud of the benefit it will provide to the Lowcountry and the entire state of South Carolina for decades to come.” — HDR Vice President David Kinard
“Our team at Banks Construction is proud to partner with SC Ports to build the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal. We could not have accomplished building this state-of-the-art container terminal without excellent support and assistance from the SC Ports and HDR team. We also relied heavily on the commitment and dedication from our sitework partners Thompson Construction Group, Archer Western, Chandler Construction, Southern Construction, ICE, Insight Group and Loveless Contracting. Most importantly, we worked together to build this critical infrastructure project safely and accomplished an early completion. HLT will serve a vital role in the economic success of our state, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.” — Banks Construction CEO Reid Banks
“Cape Romain Contractors and Cape Romain/McLean – A Joint Venture is extremely proud to have played a role in building the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal. Our teams took a very innovative approach to the design, engineering and build process of the 1,400-foot berth, yielding a berth capable of handling the largest container ships calling the East Coast. The Leatherman Terminal is the result of years of hard work and daily collaboration among South Carolina Ports and numerous project partners. This is an exciting day for us all as we welcome the first ship to the berth.” — Cape Romain Contractors President Andrew DuPre
“Samet Corporation is proud to have played an instrumental role in the construction of the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal, including building the Terminal Operations Building, Vessel Operations Building and Maintenance Building. While there are many exciting details to the project, we are most appreciative of the great working relationship our team has forged with SC Ports and the many project partners that worked in tandem to expeditiously deliver this modern container terminal for South Carolina.” — Samet Corporation CEO Arthur Samet
“SCDOT completed the Port Access Road on time, providing a direct connection between Interstate 26 at exit 218 and SC Ports’ Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal. The complex project involved replacing an old, partial interchange with a new, modern interchange and performing other associated roadway improvements. The dedicated Port Access Road is four miles in length and provides a new, elevated and direct connection to the container terminal for truck drivers moving goods. The SCDOT team is excited to have played such an integral role in making the Leatherman Terminal accessible to further economic growth for our state. Congratulations to SC Ports on the opening of this truly historic project.” — South Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall