Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works), has approved plans to deepen the navigation channels to the Port of Savannah from 42 feet to 47 feet at low water in the inner harbor and 49 feet at low water in a portion of the ocean channel.
In the record of decision
Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP), Darcy said she found the plan recommended by the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers “to be technically feasible, economically justified, cost effective, in accordance with applicable environmental statutes, and in the public interest."
“The Corps’ decision is a crucial step for a project more than a decade
in the making,” said Curtis Foltz, Georgia Ports Authority's executive director.
“It is a leap forward for America’s global competitiveness.”
said deepening the Port of Savannah will help maintain Georgia’s
economic momentum by supporting existing jobs, creating new
opportunities and strengthening the state’s position as a logistics
He also said the project has a “high benefit to cost ratio 5 to
1, almost unheard of in Corps projects, so it is a critically high
priority project for the nation and the Army Corps."
“This is a historic moment for the state of Georgia, and a great day for the nation,” said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. “Very few federal infrastructure projects yield $5.50 for every dollar invested, so taxpayers will receive a handsome return on the Savannah harbor expansion.”
Billy Birdwell, a Corps public affairs officer, said the earliest that construction could begin is next summer. He said the Corps is working with the state of Georgia on project partnership agreement.
Georgia has committed $181.1 million to the project, which is expected to cost at total of $652 million.
“We will work out the details on how that money is to be moved from the state to the federal government so we can begin spending it, and that will take a little while as well as appropriations from Congress,” Birdwell said. He said the Corps and state need to discuss whether the project can begin without appropriations from the federal government.
“The folks here and in Georgia are eager to get started,” he said.
Before actual dredging begins, much of the mitigation will have to be completed, particularly in the harbor, Birdwell said.
The mitigation includes building a fish bypass at the New Savannah Bluff lock and dam far upstream near Augusta, to open additional habitat for the endangered short-nose sturgeon.
The Corps also plans to add special devices, called Speece Cones, to inject oxygen into the estuary to replace what may be impacted as a result of deepening efforts.
Those devices, invented by Richard Speece of Vanderbilt University, have been manufactured by an Indianapolis-based company called Eco2Tech
to treat water and wastewater.
Steve Hatchel, president of Eco2Tech, said Speece Cones have been widely used, but this project would require more of them, 10 of the largest cones, to inject enough oxygen.
The mitigation plan also involves purchasing more than 2,200 acres of freshwater marsh to add to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge to mitigate for the anticipated change to 223 acres of freshwater tidal wetlands into brackish marsh.
The Corps also plans to take 28 acres of what was once a marsh for use as a dredge disposal site and reconvert it back into a marsh.
The GPA said the Corps of Engineers studies show that post-Panamax ships more efficiently served by a deeper harbor will lower shipping costs for containerized trade by $174 million a year over the next 50 years, for a total economic benefit of $8.7 billion during that span.
GPA Vice Chairman Steve Green noted post-Panamax ships are already calling the port via the Suez Canal and the expansion of the Panama Canal “is expected to increase the number of these larger ships calling on the U.S. East Coast, so it is vital that our ports prepare for this new class of vessels.”
Foltz said the approval was “a strong message to Congress, a strong message to the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and the administration about the need for this project to be done quickly as it can possibly be accomplished.”
Foltz also noted Georgia has already appropriated the majority of the $262 million local share of the project. He said use of that project could allow work to begin “until we start receiving federal funds in fiscal 2014,” which begins next October.
He said he expects the Corps could begin letting dredging contracts for the physical dredge work by the middle of next year.
“Everything now is moving forward full speed and on all accounts and the Corps current project completion has it for second half of 2016,” he said.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed a lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers over the project saying it needed a pollution control permit.
But Darcy said the Corps received water quality certificates from both Georgia and South Carolina, and said in her order that she is seeking a Clean Water Act exemption “to prevent inappropriate delays to this project due to pending litigation.”
Foltz said the port has "received enthusiastic calls" from both carriers abd beneficial cargo owners about the project.
"They are very pleased, I think they all knew it was going to
happen anyway but it's nice to finally to see that the officials approval
is in hand. They continue to be in strong support of our port for
their southeast gateway. That is
what we have been building our terminals and all the support network for--to
plan for that future growth."
- Chris Dupin