Jeffries picked for ports board

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Retired South Carolina State University head football coach Willie Jeffries was nominated Thursday to the S.C. State Ports Authority Board.

Noting the port's importance in economic development, the Calhoun County resident said he hopes to provide a voice for the region.

"Every duck will praise his own pond," he said. "I hope I can be of some service to the area where I live, and not forgetting what is good for the state of South Carolina."

Jeffries is the fourth person appointed to the board by Gov. Nikki Haley. His appointment must be approved by the S.C. Senate.

He led the Bulldogs from 1973 to 1979, before becoming the first African-American coach in Division 1-A history when he was named head coach of Wichita State. He also coached at Howard University before his second stint at S.C. State from 1989 to 2001.

"He's a pillar of the community who has long given his time and talents to that region and to South Carolina at large, and he will bring a great and necessary perspective to the Ports Authority Board," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a statement.

He said the governor, "looks forward to Mr. Jeffries' swift approval by the Senate so he can get to work, focusing on bringing dual rail to Charleston and expanding the activity at all of our ports."

Jeffries expressed gratitude for the appointment and said he will bring his coaching background to the board.

"In my field of work, it has been all about honesty, loyalty and teamwork," he said. "I will be a good team member with the board. I don't have to be the smartest person in there, but with these three ingredients, I will be just fine."

The Port of Charleston is currently facing two major issues: The planned deepening of the port and the effort to take rail to a new terminal.

Jeffries declined to voice his opinion about the rail controversy until he's had a chance to gather all the facts. He did say whatever position he ultimately takes will be "for the betterment of all concerned."

North Charleston officials contend the state's rail plan violates a 2002 memorandum of understanding between the city and the State Ports Authority that a northern route would not be used.

The Department of Commerce says a northern route is necessary to ensure fair and equal access for each of the region's major carriers, Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation.

"North Charleston is growing by leaps and bounds, and we have to think about Charleston and Orangeburg and Calhoun County," Jeffries said. "We have to develop those areas and jobs for people. I think we will be off and running."

The Orangeburg County Development Commission is supporting the Department of Commerce's plan.

Jeffries says deepening the port is very important.

"Sometimes we battle with Savannah and Jacksonville ... but it will be important to bring all the goods in. We might also look at an inland port, and that would help a great deal," he said. "If it needs to be (deepened), we will study the facts and make a real intelligent decision."

Approximately $150,000 has been set aside by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start a study of the port deepening.

BMW, Michelin and other Upstate employers say the harbor's deepening is critical because it needs to accommodate larger ships that will sail to major East Coast ports after the Panama Canal's widening in 2014.