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Savannah harbor deepening is done

Georgia governor hails project to ‘provide the infrastructure our economy needs to thrive’

The inner portion of the harbor is dredged near the Port of Savannah Garden City Terminal. (Photo: Stephen B. Morton/Georgia Ports Authority)

Like many milestones, the completion of the Savannah harbor deepening was marked by a ceremony attended by dignitaries. 

“This is a great day for the state of Georgia and for the nation,” Gov. Brian Kemp said during Friday’s event. “The Port of Savannah is the gateway port for our region and the first choice of businesses serving the U.S. Southeast. Completion of our harbor deepening is a testament to a shared commitment between state and federal partners — like our previous governors and current and former members of Congress who worked tirelessly to help move this project forward — to provide the infrastructure our economy needs to thrive.”

The joint project involving the Georgia Ports Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia Department of Transportation was designed to expedite the flow of cargo to and from global destinations by reducing tidal restrictions for mega-ships transiting the Savannah River.

Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch speaks during the Friday ceremony. (Photo: Stephen B. Morton/GPA)

Exporters now have more opportunity to move goods overseas because ships can take on more cargo. And faster vessel service means the Port of Savannah can handle more ships each year, according to GPA.

The harbor deepening completion comes at the right time. American Shipper’s Greg Miller reported last week that the number of liner services from Asia calling U.S. East Coast ports will surge to a new record high in the coming months as more cargo is diverted from the Pacific gateway in Los Angeles/Long Beach.

And last fall Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM temporarily bypassed Savannah because of port congestion. 

Feasibility studies for the harbor deepening began in 1997. Dredging to add 5 feet of depth to the shipping channel got underway in September 2015. 

“After more than 20 years in the making, we are thrilled to mark this accomplishment today,” GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said. “A deeper channel means more than just efficient passage for the largest vessels calling the U.S. East Coast. It means continued opportunity, job growth and prosperity for the people of our state.” 

GPA said a Corps of Engineers study showed the harbor deepening is expected to net more than $291 million in annual benefits to the nation — or about $7.70 for every dollar invested in the project.

Deepening the harbor to 47 feet at the average depth at low tide provides ample draft for vessels carrying more than 16,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, allowing ships to transit the Savannah River with more containers each trip and during more hours of the day, GPA said. Along with Savannah’s 7-foot tidal swing, the water is as deep as 54 feet at high tide. The deeper water enables ships to load up to about 1,000 more containers. 

“That’s important to our exporters because it means Georgia-grown and manufactured goods reach international markets faster,” said Joel Wooten, GPA board chairman. 

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Click here for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

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.