Completion of Savannah Port Deepening Marks Important Milestone in Port Growth
After more than 20 years of study, debate, planning and digging, the Port of Savannah expansion project complete. The project officially ended on March 8, a full week ahead of the scheduled March 15 date.
The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and other dignitaries commemorated the completion of the harbor deepening that will expand access to the Port of Savannah in a Friday morning ceremony along the edge of the Savannah River.
“A deeper channel means more than just efficient passage for the largest ships calling on the East Coast of the United States. It means continued opportunity, job growth and prosperity for the people of our state. “said Griff Lynch, Executive Director of the GPA.
Feasibility studies for the Savannah Port Expansion Project (SHEP) began in 1997 and the dredging process officially began in September 2015. A total of 40 miles, which encompasses the outer and inner channel of the river, was deepened an additional five feet to 47 feet.
The deeper water will allow vessels carrying more than 16,000 container units to call at ports at low tide.
“This is important for our exporters because it means products grown and manufactured in Georgia reach international markets faster,” said Joel Wooten, chairman of GPA’s board of directors. “Deepening the port directly complements our overall mission to support growth through global trade.”
Common remarks throughout the morning focused on the job creation and economic benefits the expansion would bring to the state. Kemp noted that Georgia set an export record of more than $42 billion in 2021 amid a pandemic and global supply chain issues.
“Ports are a key reason why our FY2022 numbers for total jobs created and dollars invested are on track to top all of last year’s numbers which, by the way, by the way, was a banner year,” Kemp said. “Companies know that when they operate in Georgia, their goods will reach markets around the world, even during unprecedented challenges.”
According to a study by the Corps of Engineers, the project is expected to bring more than $291 million in annual benefits to the nation, or about $7.70 for every dollar invested in the project.
The GPA has touted step by step in its growth efforts, which have accelerated significantly over the past two decades. The completion of SHEP is just the latest step in their overall expansion.
At the annual Ports State Luncheon in February, GPA’s Lynch outlined the expansion efforts for the next three decades. Last year, the Port of Savannah handled a record 5.6 million containers. Its goal for 2050 is more than 20 million.
The Port of Savannah is currently the third busiest port in the United States, rivaled only by the Port of New York-New Jersey and the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach.
In the meantime, the GPA is still exploring options to raise the Talmadge Bridge, which crosses the Savannah River before the Garden City Terminal.
The current bridge has an air draft of 185 to 186 feet (distance from the water surface to the highest point on a ship). To be competitive going forward, Lynch said the range needs to be at least 215 to 220 feet.
Alternatives for the bridge include elevation, replacement, or tunneling, each with their own technical and economic challenges.
“The Georgia Ports Authority is funding the study to look at bridge alternatives…we’re not at a point yet where we have an option that’s nailed down, so it could take six months to a year,” Lynch said.
Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @nancyguann.