USA: Corps of Engineers Releases Savannah Harbor Expansion Study

The Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, today released a Draft General Re-evaluation Report (GRR) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a proposal to deepen the Savannah Harbor from its current depth of 42 feet up to a maximum depth of 48 feet. The public comment period on the proposals will open officially for 45 days beginning Nov. 26 and end on Jan. 10, 2011.

Savannah Harbor is the fastest growing and fourth largest port by container volume in the nation and second largest on the East Coast, according to Port Import Export Reporting Service compiled by the Journal of Commerce. The harbor was last deepened from 38 to 42 feet in 1994. Since that time, the container traffic has significantly increased. To accommodate the increased containerized cargo, the world’s shipping vessels continue to increase in capacity, size, and efficiency. However, Savannah Harbor has the shallowest depth of the top 10 containerized cargo ports in the United States. Most of the ports on the trade route that include Savannah are deeper than 42 feet, with the majority at a depth of 50 feet or greater. Harbor improvements, particularly deeper channels, reduce waterborne transportation costs and enhance efficiency in national and international trade. As indicated in the draft GRR and EIS, the harbor deepening will provide more than $100 million annually in net benefits to the nation.

The study, authorized by Congress, reflects an extensive analysis of the engineering alternatives, environmental impacts, and economic costs and benefits of deepening the Savannah Harbor and shipping channel. Funded by the federal government and the state of Georgia, the study examined the characteristics of future international shipping fleets, current and future trade routes, and the capacity of the Garden City terminal on the Savannah River.

Agency and public coordination

The Corps, in coordination with federal and state agencies, extensively examined the potential environmental impacts to deepening to various depths, including not deepening at all. Agency coordination included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Department of the Interior), NOAA Fisheries Service (Department of Commerce), and state environmental agencies in Georgia and South Carolina as well as others.

The draft EIS describes—in detail—research on possible saltwater intrusion on the Upper Floridan Aquifer, impacts to the fresh water marshes, especially inside the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, beach erosion, fish habitat, dissolved oxygen content in the harbor’s water, endangered species, impacts to wetlands, and dredged material management, among other topics. The study concluded that the environmental impacts of deepening the 35.6-mile shipping channel to 47 or 48 feet can be mitigated to an acceptable level.

Projected costs

The cost share supported by the federal government and provided by the state of Georgia depends on the depth ultimately selected once all the reviews and coordination are complete. The estimated project first costs for the 48-foot alternative, for example, is $551 million with 70 percent supported by the federal government and the remaining 30 percent provided by the state of Georgia.

The Savannah District plans to hold a public workshop from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave., to provide the public an opportunity to ask questions and provide comments on the project. The Corps will provide details related to the engineering, economics and environmental aspects of the studies.


Source: usace, November 17, 2010