UPDATED: March 22 at 12:57 p.m.
State lawmakers are planning to discuss the underused port facility at the Leatherman Terminal on the Cooper River and railroad transportation safety following train derailments across the country and in South Carolina.
S.C. Rep. Matthew W. Leber, R-Charleston, said the Charleston County Legislative Delegation will meet in the coming weeks to discuss the $1 billion Leatherman Terminal at the former navy base. No time or date has been set for the meeting, he said.
The Leatherman Terminal, operated by the State Port Authority (SPA), is experiencing an apparent work slowdown during a labor dispute between the SPA and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), which represents dockworkers.
The union and the SPA disagree over which organization should operate the new ship-to-shore cranes at the Leatherman Terminal. The National Labor Relations Board ruled last year the ILA can operate the cranes at the Leatherman Terminal and not SPA employees. The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has asked both sides to file legal briefs and responses before May 26.
“There is reason to be optimistic that” there could be a solution to resolve the slowdown at the Leatherman Terminal, Leber said. Lawmakers, he said, will meet in the coming weeks. “We have some important issues that we need to take up, and I think that is going to happen,” he added.
S.C. Rep. Joe Bustos, R-Mount Pleasant, who was recently elected the delegation’s chairman, said, “We need to get an answer on the Leatherman Terminal. I know that anything that impedes getting those containers through and moved out to the inland port, either by train or by truck, is important. At some point, there is going to be a point of diminishing returns.”
Liz Crumley, the SPA’s corporate communications manager, declined to discuss the court case.
A drop in container ship traffic is expected to be temporary “as we work towards a solution,” Crumley said in a text message to the Charleston City Paper. The SPA, she said, “is hopeful that we can work with the ILA to achieve a solution that will allow for full utilization of the Leatherman Terminal and preservation of the growth trajectory our port has experienced that creates more jobs for both S.C. Ports employees and ILA members.
“Leatherman Terminal remains open and operational,” she added. “S.C. Ports remain committed to providing excellent service and fluidity for our customers’ supply chains, alongside our maritime partners.”
Charles Brave Jr., president of the ILA Local 1422 in Charleston, said the members of three local dockworkers unions are losing money because the SPA is directing container ships away from the Leatherman Terminal to the Wando Welch Terminal on the Wando River in Mount Pleasant.
“I wish the State of South Carolina and the ILA can settle this,” he said. “The state and the union are hurting the most.” SPA employees operate the cranes at the Wando Terminal and at other SPA facilities.
In a text message to the City Paper, Crumley wrote the SPA is not diverting ships from the Leatherman Terminal. Some of the shipping companies are docking at the “Wando due to ongoing litigation, which we hope to resolve soon for the benefit of our port, our maritime community and port-dependent businesses,” she wrote.
Conversation on railroad safety
On another transportation-related issue, S.C. Rep. John King, D-York, and S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, introduced a bill in the S.C. House of Representatives that would require more safety training for railroad workers and measures to hold rail companies more accountable for accidents. Companies should also be required to have on-hand specialized equipment to respond to the spills of dangerous chemicals, he said.
The lawmakers also introduced a resolution calling for one week in September to be set aside as Rail Safety Week. The resolution would encourage community groups across the state to hold safety forums with railroad executives.
Gilliard is in Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. lawmakers to discuss rail safety. He met Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. Gilliard said he also wants to meet with U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C. and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. He’s traveling with S.C. Rep. Robert Q. Williams, D-Florence, and former Charleston City Councilman Kwadjo Campbell.
Gilliard recently discussed the bill with John Dillard, director of state relations for CSX Transportation, and Patrick McCrory, president and CEO of Palmetto Railways. They attended a closed-door meeting recently in North Charleston with representatives of two neighborhood associations and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Gillard said he invited Dillard and McCrory to speak with Black caucus and Democratic caucus members in Columbia in the next two weeks “to give us some ideas on any amendments they’d want us to add to the bill.”
The meeting in North Charleston was held in the wake of recent accidents involving trains which have adversely affected people and the environment.
On Feb. 3, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. It is one of more than a dozen rail accidents reported since the start of the new year. A CSX train jumped the tracks Feb. 13 at Enoree in Spartanburg County. No injuries or spills were reported.
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