After years of delays, work to deepen the harbor at Georgia's Port of Savannah seems about to begin.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement today that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), and the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) have signed off on a project partnership agreement that allows work to begin by year's end to deepen the port's harbor to 47 feet from its current 42-foot depth.
The project will cost approximately $706 million, including construction and environmental mitigation costs. As a part of this cost-sharing agreement, the Corps, which will perform the work, can use the $266 million in state funds already set aside for the project. The state is still waiting for Congressional appropriations to cover the balance.
The statement gave no timetable for work to be completed. In 2011, the Georgia Ports Authority estimated that it would take two years to do the work. The battle over the dredging project, which has centered on environmental concerns that the work would damage Savannah's ecosystem, has been going on since the late 1990s. In his statement, Deal equated the battle as the equivalent of being in "regulatory purgatory."
The Port of Savannah is the nation's fourth-busiest seaport, behind Los Angeles, Long Beach, and the Port of New York and New Jersey. It is considered to have one of the best logistics support networks of any port in the nation. However, its current harbor water depth puts it at a competitive disadvantage because the mega-container vessels hitting the seas over the next decade are expected to need deeper drafts to safely berth at ports.
The extra 5 feet of depth will allow ships to place more containers on a vessel without compromising safety or the environment. The Corps has estimated that the increase in depth will accommodate an additional 3,600 20-foot-equivalent-unit (TEU) containers in each transit, an increase of 78 percent over the capacity achieved at current water levels.