October 6, 2014
Georgia port and state officials have signed a partnership agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers that allows work contracts to be awarded for deepening of Savannah’s port channel to 47 feet.
“The gun at the starting line has been fired, and we’re out of the blocks,” said Curtis Foltz, CEO at the Georgia Ports Authority.
With the partnership agreement signed, the corps can begin awarding contracts for the deepening project.
“This is the final signed agreement – no more congressional authorizations, no more agreements with the Corps of Engineers,” Foltz told JOC.com. “This final document gives the corps a green light to start awarding contracts, start spending money, and start to get into the full cycle of federal funding.
Foltz said several contracts are expected to be awarded by year end, including several for environmental mitigation and one for about $100 million to deepen the channel’s outer 10 miles.
The corps forecasts that the bulk of the dredging work will be completed in 2018.The project partnership agreement defines how costs will be shared between the federal government and state and local sources.
Under the agreement, the corps can use the state’s 40 percent share to begin dredging in advance of annual congressional appropriations for the 60 percent federal share. The state has set aside $266 million for its share of the project.
Foltz said port and state officials will seek annual congressional appropriations starting with the 2015 fiscal year.
Savannah’s harbor deepening project was authorized by Congress in 1999. Years of environmental studies and other regulatory and fiscal hurdles followed.
“After years of regulatory purgatory, we finally cleared the last hurdle and hope to begin dredging in the Savannah River before the end of the year,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. “I’ve said time and again that ‘it’s time to start moving dirt,’ and now we can.”
The Georgia partnership agreement followed news earlier in the week that rival Charleston had secured a corps draft environmental impact statement for deepening the port’s 45-foot channel to as much as 52 feet.
The Charleston project still requires final corps approval and congressional appropriations, but port authority CEO James Newsome said the work could be finished as early as 2019 if all goes to plan.
Savannah’s harbor deepening will be to 47 feet at mean low water for the inner section of the 40-mile channel, and to 49 feet for the 10-mile outer section, which extends into the Atlantic.
With a seven-foot tidal fluctuation, Savannah’s channel would have maximum depth at high tide of 54 feet on the inner portion and 56 feet at the entrance, Foltz said.
Although Savannah handles ships with capacities up to 8,500 20-foot-equivalent units, the Savannah Pilots Association requires ships with beams of 142 feet or more to transit the channel at flood tide or with assistance from two tractor tugs.
Foltz said it’s impossible to guarantee that the deeper channel will end pilotage restrictions for every vessel but that, “Obviously, it will be far better than today.” He said corps studies have said the channel “will be well-prepared to handle trade and commerce for the next half‑century.”