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Georgia Ports Authority celebrates ‘incredible’ achievements

Executive director and governor report volume records and expansion opportunities.

(Photo: Georgia Ports Authority)

Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, is happy.

“I am so happy to tell you today that by the end of this month — sometime in September — the Army Corps of Engineers and the dredgers will start dredging the final phase of the Savannah River,” Lynch said during his State of the Port address last week.

Lynch noted that the Savannah Harbor expansion program has been ongoing for 23 years.

“We’re now receiving over $100 million from the federal government to finish this project. It will be a billion dollar project when it’s done,” Lynch said. “We are going to … start talking about deeper ships.”

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the GPA hit record volumes in containers, total tonnage and cargo moved by rail. At 4.5 million TEUs, the Port of Savannah grew its containerized trade by 7.3%, or 305,000 TEUs.

Total tonnage reached 37.5 million tons, up 1.5 million tons or 4.2%. The port handled 507,000 intermodal boxes, up 73,000, or 17%, year-over-year, the GPA reported during the State of the Port event in Savannah on Sept. 12.

Lynch called attention to representatives from Evergreen, Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd and MSC at the luncheon and said those four shipping lines represent 40% of the volume that comes into the Garden City Terminal.

CSX and Norfolk Southern also were represented, Lynch said, touting the “914,000 TEUs handled on rail last year. Over the last 10 years, we’ve grown by 100% when it comes to rail.”

He added, “Our intermodal volume for August was an all-time record.”

Lynch said previously it was taking two to three days to take a container and load it from a ship onto a train. “Today that number is 24 hours or less. That is world class.”

Lynch said Savannah has moved up a slot to be the No. 3 gateway in the nation, behind only Los Angeles/Long Beach and New York/New Jersey.

“We’re growing by 6.4% over the last 10 years,” he said. “That is fantastic. It’s the fastest in the nation.”

The GPA now has a 21% market share on the East Coast, Lynch said. “One out of every five containers that move through the East Coast is coming  through this port. That to me is incredible.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also used the word “incredible” in his remarks at the State of the Port event. He called the GPA’s 300,000 container growth “an incredible accomplishment.”

“I don’t have to recite the economic impact the ports have on our economy, on the Southeast, on literally the nation,” Kemp said. “When a new distribution center opens, when a new manufacturing plant sets up shop or a new customer begins to call on the port, new jobs and opportunities are created. Our ports are key drivers of our economy.

Gov. Brian Kemp talks about the state of the ports. Photo by Kim Link-Wills

“We can leverage the success of our ports to reach even more Georgians. But first we must take a look at new opportunities with inland ports and parts of our state that need economic revitalization. We must work with rail providers and manufacturers, suppliers and economic developers to dig deeper and think bigger,” the governor continued. “If we can leverage our ports to expand their reach, we’ll drive more cargo through there.

“If we can take the incredible success story that we have in Savannah and replicate it in more parts of Georgia, we can create more opportunities through our supply chain,” Kemp said.

Lynch said the governor had been on hand to announce that Plastic Express selected Chatham County to build a 1.5 million-square-foot facility to move resins and other cargo. That facility will open in October.

“We don’t have enough warehouse space right now in Savannah,” he said, pointing out that Wayfair is bringing 1,000 jobs to Savannah and that Shaw has more than 2 million square feet of warehouse space in Savannah and looking to build more. “There is 7.85 million square feet in that one trade park, which is phenomenal, five minutes from the port.”

Lynch said, “Last year 10.7 million square feet was built” and over the past year, the warehouse vacancy rate has dropped from 3% to 1.5%. “That’s a good problem to have. That means customer demand is there.”

During the fiscal year ending June 30, there were 68 port-related projects in Georgia, with $5 billion in investment and 12,000 jobs created, Lynch said.

That economic development includes the Appalachian Regional Port, which opened in August 2018 and already is doing more than 2,000 lifts a month.

“GE Appliances is going to build a distribution center in Chatsworth, Georgia, because of the ARP,” Lynch said, noting the facility will open in 2020. “This is incredible. It’s going to bring 100 jobs to a place that needs jobs in rural Georgia.

“There are so many stories like this,” Lynch said.

“There’s no other project that we’ve announced that’s bigger than the mega rail,” he continued. “It’s a $200 million project. What’s really neat about it is it’s going to take our rail capacity from 500,000 containers a year to 1 million — or about 1 million TEUs to 2 million.”

Lynch said massive rail gantry cranes will straddle the tracks. “These cranes are being built in the United States of America, probably the first time in my lifetime that has happened.”

Hammer Haag Steel is building the cranes for the mega rail project. “The first phase will open in six months,” Lynch said. “We’re doing this because we also believe we can tap into new markets.

“Chicago’s market is over 5 million TEUs alone. We think we should be tapped into that market more than we are,” he said. “We’re half the distance to Chicago versus L.A./Long Beach. We can get containers to Chicago in half the time.”

Lynch reported, “Thanks to Norfolk Southern and CSX, we offer dual rail service from Savannah to Chicago and we can get there in 67 hours — less than three days.”

He added, “There’s no reason why we can’t create a new market and that’s Chicago.”

The addition of 100,000 feet of rail line and eight American-made rail-mounted gantry cranes will help GPA get there, Lynch said.

He highlighted other things to come, including delivery of six ship-to-shore cranes by December; completion of the Brampton Road Connector in 2023; and development of Hutchinson Island to handle 2.5 million TEUs by 2026-27.

“We have to go larger and higher. We’re talking about 11 million TEUs — 2030 may be a little aggressive, but definitely by 2035 we can make it happen.”

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Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.