Richmond County officials are disappointed that North Carolina gubernatorial candidates have said they won’t support construction of the proposed North Carolina International Port Terminal in Southport, if elected.
“This could be the single biggest thing we could do in the whole state to promote economic growth,” said Richmond County Board Chairman Kenneth Robinette. He also serves on the North Carolina Southeast Commission.
Growth in the Southport and Wilmington ports could allow super-barges to enter with cargo. Ships are getting bigger, and we should try to accommodate them, said Robinette.
“Not everyone has the potential for a deep sea port as we do out there in Southport,” said Robinette. “It’s kinda sad — they already bought the property. I’ve walked it. The businesses are already there. The port is almost at full capacity.”
Robinette said he doesn’t like when politicians “talk out of both sides of their mouth,” referring to gubernatorial candidates who say they are for job creation and economic growth, but aren’t willing to pursue the port growth, which would allow 11 counties in the southeast including Richmond County to receive growth in export and import.
Gubernatorial candidates Walter Dalton, a Democrat, and Pat McCrory, a Republican, both said they oppose the plan.
Dalton, now lieutenant governor, reportedly has cited the appearance of lack of federal government support, including North Carolina’s congressional delegation, and opposition from the state General Assembly among his reasons for not pursuing construction of the port. The recently approved state budget for 2012-13 includes language prohibiting any state spending for the proposed N.C. International Terminal, and Dalton contends that the project — that would take years to construct — would cost as much as $6 billion in seaside and land-side improvements.
Dalton also uses data from the recently released N.C. Maritime Strategy Study, which looks at ways to make state ports more competitive, to boost his argument against a mega-port. He instead says that efforts should be focused on improving existing ports, including Wilmington and Morehead City, and expanding exports by creating niche markets.
Robinette said that if the ports are not up fitted for super-barges, the barges and the commerce will go elsewhere.
“We all know commerce takes place via ships,” said Rick Sago, director of Economic Development for Richmond County. “They are widening the Panama Canal for bigger ships. Several ports on the East Coast are already ready. We’re either going to be prepared or we’re not. We’ve got companies (in Richmond County) that use the ports. With CSX rail coming through the county, and with Highway 74, the potential is there. We need to take a long-term look at how we can be competitive.”
“If you’re going to play the game, get on the field,” said Robinette. “To me it’s simple; we’ve got to do what is in the best interest of the majority.”
Heartland News Service contributed to this report.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.