By Karen E. Thuermer,
Facilitating global trade through strategic U.S. East Coast gateways, while creating opportunities for 9 million Georgians, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) is a catalyst for international trade and investment.
But with more steamship line companies introducing Post-Panamax vessels into multiple strings around the globe, and the widening of the Panama Canal in 2014 that will be then able to accommodate those larger vessels, GPA – like other ports up and down the U.S. East Coast – is facing big issues concerning harbor dredging.
“Deepwater ports along the United States East Coast are critical trade gateways that must be deepened to adequately accommodate the larger, more efficient container ships calling ports today and expected to increase exponentially following completion of the Panama Canal expansion,” comments James C. McCurry, Jr., director of Administration, GPA.
Consequently, one of the biggest issues facing the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) today is what has become known as the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP). SHEP would deepen the Savannah River from its current 42 foot depth to as much as 48 feet.
“The transportation cost savings that can be gained by full utilization of these larger ships will provide more cost-effective access to global markets for U.S. exporters and lower cost of goods for domestic consumers,” McCurry adds. “In order to see economic growth and desperately needed job creation, the United States must provide the critical infrastructure such as the SHEP required to support international trade.”
State and GPA officials regard completion of the SHEP as critically important to continued economic growth in the Southeastern United States and Georgia. In fact, the harbor deepening is perhaps the state of Georgia’s No. 1 critical economic development project in the near term.
To bring the project up to date: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its $40 million Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on SHEP on Nov. 15, 2010 and posted it to the Federal Register on November 26. The public has 60 days to comment on that draft, a period that runs through January 25. At that time, the Army Corps of Engineers will take the comments it has received and incorporate appropriate changes into the final draft. A final EIS will then be available in late Spring/Summer 2011.
GPA’s Executive Director Curtis J. Foltz refers to the draft EIS as the most exhaustive environmental study of the Savannah River estuary ever undertaken.
“The $40-million scientific study details plans to avoid impacts to natural resources and proposes mitigation for any unavoidable impacts of the SHEP,” he says.
The next step is for President Obama to recommend the budget.
The Georgia delegation has requested that the Obama Administration consider up to $105 million worth of funding for Federal Fiscal 2012 for construction of the SHEP. No one knows yet for certain, however, if that money, or a portion thereof, is included in the budget.
The Congress then considers what changes they make to budget before it becomes final. The Final Record of Decision is scheduled to be issued late this calendar year.
The EIS says the cost of the dredging could run as high as $551 million with 70 percent of the funding to be provided by the federal government.
If the schedule has final recommendation late this year – within the Federal fiscal year 2012, construction should begin during 2012. All construction should run up to 2015.
Important Carrier Strings
One fact that is important to note, the Port of Savannah can already accommodate vessels 8,500 TEUs in size. In fact, according to John Wheeler, Senior Director of Trade Development, Carrier and Non-Container Sales, the port already receives five strings of service that come through the Suez Canal and will likely accommodate more strings regardless of the Panama Canal expansion in 2014.
But as Alec Poitevint, chairman of GPA’s Board of Dire