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After Harbor Project, Georgia Looks Toward New Savannah River Terminal



Make no mistake about it, a deeper trench in the Savannah River harbor and channel is a really big deal to ensure that Georgia’s port remains globally competitive, but when you look down the road just a few years there is an even more critical strategic priority: building a completely new port. The proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal would be constructed in South Carolina on land owned by Georgia and it would benefit from the new deeper Savannah River access to the Atlantic Ocean, and the world.

“We have stated many times that we need to deepen the harbor here at Savannah, we need to deepen the harbor at Charleston and we need to ultimately build the port at Jasper County,” on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, said Billy Birdwell, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah. “At some point Charleston and Savannah will reach their capacity but we predict trade and commerce will continue to grow. We will need the Jasper port as well. We will need all of them.”

SHEP – the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project – will deepen the existing 32-mile-long harbor and extend the channel eight miles further into the Atlantic Ocean. The current 42-foot Savannah River low tide depth will be dredged to 47 feet with a 54-foot high tide capacity. The project timetable is three years. When SHEP improvements finish in late 2017 or early 2018 Savannah will be able to handle the world’s largest container ships loaded to full capacity.

Georgia Ports Authority Garden City Terminal in Savannah

Georgia Ports Authority Garden City Terminal in Savannah

“Georgia has done an outstanding job dealing with the landside components, our port capacity, the inland capacity with road and rail,” said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz. The GPA spends more than $100 million per year on internal improvements. “The one Achilles heel we have had has been the limited depth of the Savannah River.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah River Dredging

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah River Dredging

Savannah docks 37 container ships per week. These sea beasts move the world’s products. Ships that call at Savannah transit through the Panama and Suez Canals. Their reach is everywhere in the world. Savannah port demand is expected to exceed its capacity within 15-to-20 years. “Under almost any growth curve when you reach the 2030 to 2035 time frame both of our ports (Savannah and Charleston, South Carolina) are effectively maxed out,” said Foltz.

Georgia owns 13,000 acres on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. The proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal would be constructed on two massive sections of that site. The proposed location is sections 14A and 14B in yellow on a color-coded SHEP project map published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The yellow section is where 24 million cubic yards of ocean and river bottom will be deposited during SHEP dredging expected to start this fall.   Watch this video.

The Savannah River harbor and channel are continuously dredged to maintain current levels so to most folks, all this effort will look like business as usual. “It’s not going to look any different from what we do anyway,” said Birdwell at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Initial deepening will occur in a 20-mile section of the Atlantic Ocean, starting at approximately Fort Pulaski.

Getting this far with SHEP took nearly fifteen years, lots of scientific analysis, lots of politics, lots of environmental mitigation, lots of compromise, lots of expense. SHEP is currently funded at $652 million and the Corps says 25 percent of that total is cost overrun contingency funding. Up to $706 million is authorized by federal legislation but that amount has not been appropriated.

Savannah’s port is a robust economic engine that generates $61 billion in annual revenue and it supports more than 320,000 jobs in Georgia and South Carolina. Savannah is the fourth largest port nationally, the second largest on the East Coast behind only New York – New Jersey ports, and Savannah is the nation’s fastest growing port in terms of containers served.

Savannah operates at 50 percent maximum docking capacity with 7 percent annual growth over the past decade. GPA Executive Director Foltz predicted that even if annual growth was reduced to 4 percent, which nobody expects, the Garden City Terminal at Savannah would reach 80 percent capacity before 2030. “It starts getting tight,” Foltz said. “That’s our story.”

Jasper Ocean Terminal would be operated as a Georgia – South Carolina port and nearly every detail about that relationship is a work-in-progress, as is the extensive federal review process. Foltz predicted it could take twenty years to fully move from concept to an operational facility.

“South Carolina and Georgia both recognize we need to take advantage of the Savannah River,” Foltz said. “It’s not a complicated site but as you can expect there aren’t any easy wins today when you talk about coastal development. We’re already kind of behind the curve.”

Additional Resources:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers SHEP Project Map

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

(Published Friday, June 27, 2014)

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full Court Press Behind the Savannah River Expansion Project

Mike Klein

Here’s something you might not know about the Savannah River and Harbor expansion project.  Georgia sturgeon living about 130 miles up the river would get a new bypass to their spawning grounds.  In fact, $225 million or about one-third of total cost has been allocated to environmental mitigation, including the purchase and permanent preservation of some 2,000 shoreline acres.

Dredging the Savannah River and harbor to 48 feet from its current 42-foot depth might be Georgia’s most significant economic development project since Atlanta was rebuilt after the Civil War or, perhaps more realistically,  the development of Atlanta’s international airport.   It is almost impossible to overstate the critical nature of this $625 million venture.  With an improved river and harbor, Georgia remains on the world stage.  Without it, well, you really don’t want to think about that.

There was a full court press behind SHEP – the Savannah River and Harbor Expansion project – on Wednesday at the fourth annual Georgia Logistics Summit in Atlanta.  Governor Nathan Deal told 1,500 conference guests that federal decisions are close-at-hand, probably this summer.  “We are doing everything in our power to move that project forward,” Deal said during his summit opening address.

Savannah is the world’s shallowest major port.  It is unable to accommodate larger international tankers that will begin to transit the Panama Canal in 2014.  “Deeper than you are today is important,” morning keynote speaker Curtis Spencer told reporters during an informal roundtable.   Spencer is President and CEO of IMS Worldwide, Texas-based consultants in worldwide shipping logistics.

Georgia Ports Authority Terminal in Savannah

Despite Savannah’s current depth – again, shallowest major port in the world – it is wildly successful.  Industry data shows the Savannah Garden City Terminal is the fourth busiest and fastest growing port in the nation during the past decade.  Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York – New Jersey are the busiest ports.   The Charleston, South Carolina port was tenth busiest during between 2005 and 2011.

Larger ships will dwarf today’s supertankers that currently travel up the Savannah River.  They will be longer, taller and their width will nearly double.   “Ships aren’t going to change to accommodate us,” Georgia Ports Authority executive director Curtis Foltz said during his luncheon keynote address.  “That’s why it’s so important that we get this project done as quickly as possible.”

Seventy percent of the U.S. population lives in the eastern one-third of the country with 44 percent living in the Southeast.  “That’s our back yard, “Foltz said.  “That’s what our ports are built to service.” Some 62 percent of all import and export trade from Savannah is with Asia.

Congress approved a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers harbor deepening study way back in 1999.  It took ten years to complete the study and now another two years for other federal officials to analyze the findings.  Contrast that with Panama which started the Canal expansion project in 2006 and will complete all work before 2014.  Georgia hopes the federal approval and funding process would enable work to begin next year.

The federal government and Georgia would share Savannah improvement costs in a 60 – 40 split.  Georgia previously committed $134 million and Governor Deal included $47 million in new bonds in his next budget.  The project includes $400 million to dredge and $225 million for environmental mitigation.  The entire cost was estimated at about $250 million when this conversation began back in 1999.

Governor Deal said some 21,000 U.S. businesses ship through Savannah each year and three-fourths of those businesses are headquartered outside Georgia.  The Governor said a deeper Savannah River and Harbor could save businesses up to $100 million per year over other their next best trade route options.

Georgia’s fourth annual logistics summit attracted 1,500 guests from 28 states and seven countries to the World Congress Center in Atlanta.  The summit is tag-teaming this year with MODEX, the gigantic logistics industry trade show that opened Monday.  Governor Deal announced that the state’s new comprehensive freight plan is complete and will be released later this month.

Deal also lobbied for passage of this summer’s TSPLOST vote that could unleash billions of dollars for local transportation projects, including some that would affect freight logistics.  Voters in twelve regions statewide will vote thumbs up or down in July.  The state business sector is solidly behind the TSPLOST and it is prepared to spend millions of dollars advocating passage.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)  

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Will Seek Federal Funds for New National Transportation Institute

Mike Klein

Georgia intends to pursue federal funds to create a National Transportation Institute at Georgia Tech. Governor Nathan Deal made the announcement Tuesday morning in Atlanta, probably to the chagrin of the state’s northern neighbor because Tennessee has an institute in Knoxville.  And, here’s the rub, the federal government would not have funds available for both centers.

Governor Deal’s announcement was made during his morning speech to some 1,200 attendees at the 2011 Georgia Logistics Summit. The Atlanta-based Robert W. Woodruff Foundation has provided a six-figure seed grant that will enable the state to prepare its federal funding proposal.  At least six Georgia universities — their researchers and students — would become project partners.

“We plan to partner with other southeastern universities giving this plan a regional context as well,” Governor Deal said. “I plan to reach out to the governors of the other southeastern states to propose a comprehensive logistics study that will help all of us coordinate our planning and our investments as we move forward.”

State executives who briefed reporters later said Georgia will apply for a National Transportation Institute designation from the U. S. Department of Transportation.  Designation would bring $2.25 million in annual federal dollars that would be supplemented with public and private funds.

Georgia is a natural location for a regional transportation institute. The Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah and Brunswick handles 12% of the nation’s total export traffic to all U.S. major trading partners. The state has the world’s busiest passenger airport, several thousand miles of freight rail lines, three north-to-south interstates and one east-to-west interstate.  Logistically, it makes sense.

The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Georgia Southern University, Spelman College and Southern Polytechnic State University would become partners. The institute would help to coordinate real-world transportation planning within southeastern states and it would become an academic center for logistics industry students.

Georgia’s announcement sets up some fairly interesting dialogue possibilities with Tennessee, which proudly boasts about the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Georgia officials said the region would not need two such centers.

The Center for Transportation Research website notes that a National Transportation Research Center was recently established with Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. CTR’s site says the 41-year-old University of Tennessee center has $10 million in ongoing projects and that it “strives to address these needs for the nation, our region and our community.”

Governor Deal’s announcement was the biggest early headline from a daylong summit that brought together experts on how logistics impacts agribusiness, air freight, life sciences, energy, manufacturing and ocean freight.  The consistent summit theme was how to improve Georgia-centric logistics and then make that model interact properly with regional and national models.

Jack Wells, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Transportation, described many federal government priorities and initiatives during his logistics summit morning keynote address.

But Wells did not tip his hand on the biggest elephant in Georgia logistics; federal funds that Georgia needs for the $580 million Savannah River and harbor deepening project.

Wells said the U.S. DOT is conducting a project study; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has studied the Savannah project for several years and Congress first discussed funding some 12 years ago. It could be another year before the federal funding question is resolved.

“The Savannah harbor expansion project is one that the Corps of Engineers and hopefully the White House will recognize as great significance for the future of our country,” Governor Deal said Tuesday morning. “It makes sense for Georgia. It also makes sense for the southeastern region and it certainly makes sense for the country as a whole.”

Wells said four southern ports – Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans and Norfolk – handle about 39% of the nation’s product exports and one-fourth of all exports and imports. Southeastern states grew their exports by 80% in the last decade while the nation grew by 71%.

“I do want to emphasize, the federal government will not select a single port on the East Coast and support just that one port,” Wells said. “What we want to do is look at each individual port, what its needs are, what its contributions are to the national economy and then make appropriate investment in that port. We won’t be picking only one port.”

State officials gave Wells’ prepared remarks a favorable review.

“When you look at it from an economic point of view, from a facts and figures point of view, we’re going to be coming out on top of that argument because we have such an impact on the national economy,” said Page Siplon, executive director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics. “All those things are music to our ears.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Public – Private Partners Launch Internet Shipping Marketplace

Mike Klein

The next big thing in logistics (that means moving stuff from one place to another) might already have happened right here in Georgia.  Georgiafreight.com is a coordinated marketplace of transportation options for moving anything from here to there or almost anywhere.

It exists entirely on the Internet, it’s easy to use (even I was able to understand it) and here’s the best news yet, it comes with a whole bunch of built-in discounts. You can get discounts for being a Georgia company and for shipping from one Georgia address to another.

Georgiafreight.com is a project of Efreightsolutions, a private company, but it was hatched with lots of assistance from the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics which is headquartered on the Georgia Tech campus in Savannah.  It received a big boost forward from Kennesaw State University president Dan Papp who connected Efreightsolutions and the Innovations Center.

“It’s an online freight portal and there are lots of them out there, but what was lacking was a focus on Georgia,” said Page Siplon, director of the state’s Center of Innovation for Logistics.  This online model provides several tiers of service and lots of options for moving product by air, rail, truck or water.  Siplon said the model could soon be expanded to California and New York.

The Georgiafreight.com story will be center stage when the 2011 Georgia Logistics Summit convenes over two days next week at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta.  But the company’s ability to help industries move products will be just one reason that it makes headlines.

Using its own private funds, Georgiafreight.com will make program awards to five Georgia universities that offer logistics education.  Siplon said the company will also announce an inaugural Logistics and Community Leadership Award to a person (or persons) for work within the industry and dedication to foster care programs.  University and personal award recipients will be honored during Monday evening’s reception at the Cobb Galleria Centre.

Page Siplon

Next Tuesday’s daylong third annual Georgia Logistics Summit is rapidly becoming a must-attend event for private industry and public stakeholders.  Siplon launched the event as a 2009 luncheon and 450 attended.  “We knew we were onto something,” Siplon said.  Last year it moved to the Cobb Galleria and attendance doubled.  Some 1,200 are registered for Tuesday.

The entire reason the conference exists is to explain how Georgia can move products.  “It’s a complicated industry so when you say logistics, a lot of things come to mind,” Siplon said.  “What was lacking was a place where all those people could get together and talk.”

Tuesday scheduled keynote speakers include Jack Wells, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Wells will meet with Georgia Ports Authority executives on Monday in Savannah before his conference address on Tuesday in Atlanta.

The Savannah River and harbor deepening project remains the biggest elephant in the room. Georgia needs to dredge the river from its current 42-foot depth to 48 feet to accommodate larger ships that will begin to navigate the new Panama Canal in three years.  Project cost is estimated at $500-to-$600 million, to be shared between Georgia and the federal government.

Georgia has already committed its share of about 25 percent, but Washington has not followed suit.  “Yes, that is probably the most visible project because it affects so many things,” Siplon said.  “It is a project we are going to have to fund one way or another.  Georgia is at the crossroads of global commerce.  We shouldn’t have to beg for resources to do that.”

Here is a video about the economic impact of the Georgia ports in Savannah and Brunswick.

Tuesday’s conference will include breakout sessions on air freight, agribusiness, energy, life sciences, manufacturing and ocean freight.  Other scheduled speakers include Governor Nathan Deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Georgia Ports Authority executive director Curtis Foltz, state economic development commissioner Chris Cummiskey, state transportation commissioner Vance Smith and logistics industry executives.

Click here to learn more about the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 6, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment