USA: Dredging Boosts Savannah Harbor Expansion

A critical piece of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project fell into place Friday when the Georgia Ports Authority board voted to pay the $20.4 million it will take to extend channel depth to 48 feet.

The vote came after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revealed its economic analysis of the project will recommend deepening the channel from 42 to 47 feet.

While the Corps’ report recommended 47 feet because it had a slightly better benefit-to-cost ratio, it left the door open for the project’s local sponsor – in this case, the Georgia Department of Transportation – to opt for the “locally preferred plan” of 48 feet by agreeing to pay for the additional foot.

Those costs were identified as $46 million for construction and an additional $51,000 annually for operations and maintenance, some $20.4 million more than the authority’s previously submitted estimates.

Board members met Tuesday with Gov. Sonny Perdue to discuss the options and came away with a recommendation that the Georgia DOT pursue the locally preferred plan with the understanding that the port authority will assume the additional costs.

“The Corps of Engineers will consider that request as it moves forward with completion of the general re-evaluation report and environmental impact statement,” said Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell. “These reports must still undergo extensive reviews before we submit them to the public for comment. We will consider all comments before coming to a decision.”

The fact that the decision is tentative did little to dampen GPA enthusiasm.

“This is an extremely exciting step in the process of harbor deepening,” said GPA executive director Curtis Foltz. “It’s further demonstration of the critical importance and need for this project nationally and beyond.”

The Corps’ letter to the state DOT, dated July 8, identified a benefit-to-cost ratio of 5-to-1 at a depth of 47 feet and a benefit-to-cost ratio of 4.8-to-1 at 48 feet.

“In terms of a project of this magnitude, both ratios are extremely strong and speak volumes about the beneficial role our ports play in commerce,” Foltz said. “The Corps’ job is to make a recommendation based on the optimum economic benefit to the nation as a whole, which is why they went with 47 feet while leaving the door open for us to go the extra foot.”

GPA board chairman Alec L. Poitevint II called the Corps’ decision and Friday’s board vote a milestone in the 13-year effort to deepen the Savannah River channel before 2014, when the Panama Canal expansion project will bring larger ships with deeper drafts to East Coast ports.

“It has taken a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people, tremendous attention to detail and cooperation,” he said. “The give and take and the positive relationships we have formed – from the ports to the Corps to the governor and all the way to Washington – shows that we can all work together for the good of the nation.”

Poitevint said the governor and the GPA board believe the additional cost involved in going to 48 feet will be more than justified.

“We feel that for us to be successful and accomplish all we want to accomplish, we will need all of 48 feet,” he said. “We are blessed with a large export market, and we want to be sure we have the water to continue to accommodate it.

“If getting to 48 feet requires us to commit some resources for the good of the state and the country, we have no problem doing that.”

Currently, Georgia maritime activities support more than 286,000 jobs in the state and contribute about $10.8 billion in income, $35.4 billion in revenue and $1.4 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to an economic impact study conducted by the University of Georgia.

Almost 21,000 companies across all 50 states utilize the Georgia Ports Authority facilities in Savannah, and both the state of Georgia and private companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in land side facilities to increase efficiency.

“With the continued strong support of our governor, state legislature and board, we’ve put the road, rail and terminal infrastructure in place,” Foltz said. “We’ve worked for more than a decade to make deep water a reality here. This is the last piece of the puzzle.

“This tells our customers that this state, this port is committed to being here for them.”

By Mary Carr Mayle


Source: savannahnow, July 19, 2010;