A third port in southern Georgia could help diversify the state's marine business by concentrating on bulk cargo such as grains, sands, aggregates and wood pellets, according to a Feb. 16 press release by the Camden County Joint Development Authority, which is promoting the concept.
David Keating, the JDA's executive director, recently briefed state lawmakers that a 720-acre site where a defunct paper mill now sits is available for sale and presented an excellent opportunity to capture cargo business that now goes to Florida, which has 14 ports, and grow the state's economy.
The tract of land sits on the St. Mary's River, which runs between the states, three miles from a 48-foot channel that is used by U.S. Navy submarines at the Kings Bay Naval Base and the Port of Fernandina on the Florida side of the river.
Local news accounts last week
said the property, currently in the custody of trustees for the bankrupt Durango Georgia Paper Co, could be had for $12 million.
The Port of Savannah primarily handles containerized cargo, but also has a 200-acre terminal for breakbulk and roll-on/roll-off cargoes such as wood products, steel, automotive, heavy equipment and machinery. The Port of Brunswick, further south, specializes in ro/ro cargo, but also has a deep-water berth for bulk agriculture products.
Camden County officials said their proposed site offers several advantages.
The St. Mary's River has one of the deepest channels on the East Coast and the second deepest in the southeastern United States, behind Norfolk and Baltimore with 50-foot navigable waterways. The Georgia Ports Authority has struggled for years to get Congress to fund the Army Corps of Engineers to take the Savannah River channel from 42 feet to 48 feet, so the fourth largest container port in the nation can handle the next-generation of vessels, with three times the container capacity of those that currently can transit the Panama Canal, and remain a primary destination point for carriers. The GPA says dredging the river will provide $115 million in annual economic benefits to the nation. The Obama administration's fiscal year 2013 capital works budget for the Corps of Engineers includes $2.8 million for the Savannah Deepening Project.
The available site is located closer to the open ocean than the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, and there are no bridges between the location and the sea. Infrastructure is already in place, including rail and highway access, heavy-duty power, natural gas and public water and sewer service, according to the JDA.
The site also benefits from existing sediment ponds that are suitable for depositing future dredge spoils, it said.
"This opportunity won't last long. Someone is going to step up and acquire the property soon, and we just want to make sure as many people know about it as possible," JDA Chairman John McDill said in the news release.
The JDA coordinates economic development for Camden County and the cities of St. Mary's, Kingsland and Woodbine. — Eric Kulisch