US SecTrans LaHood: Port of Savannah “Deepening has to happen”

US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood toured the Port of Savannah today with his hosts, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal.

“With 44 percent of the U.S. population served by the Port of Savannah, it is critical that federal funding is approved for Savannah’s harbor deepening project. This project – one of the most important and productive civil works projects in the country – will maintain and create jobs and commerce throughout the region,” [said Gov. Deal].

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a strong advocate for the port deepening, sees the harbor expansion as vital to the future of Georgia and the nation.

“Deepening of the Savannah port is consistent with the priorities of the nation and the president’s focus on increasing the export capability for the U.S.,” Reed said. “Completion of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is crucial to achieving an ambitious goal of doubling U.S. exports.”

LaHood also endorsed the project to deepen river access to the Port.

This is a huge economic engine,” he said, standing on the docks adjacent to Garden City Terminal’s Container Berth 8. “It can only be better when it’s expanded.

“Bottom line: You need a deeper port.”“We need to figure out how to get the $400 million needed for this project,” he said.

Congressman Jack Kingston stressed that the final decision on dredging the river may not happen for another year:

“Realistically, when you look at all the federal approvals this project still needs, it could easily be October 2012 before we have a record of decision,” Kingston told a group of business executives Monday at the DeSoto Hilton.

“The president isn’t likely to send his transportation secretary down to look at a project he has no intention of funding,” Kingston said.

Bill Dawers, who writes for the Savannah Morning News and also writes a blog, made a point in the comments of an earlier thread that bears adding to any discussion of the port:

The Corps of Engineers’ economic analysis does not predict that deepening the harbor will increase the amount of cargo going in and out of Savannah. The landside capacity of the port will continue to increase and will max out in 2032 with or without deepening, according to the COE. The financial benefits will come from various improvements in efficiency — ships being fully loaded rather than light loaded, ships being less dependent on tides, etc. The estimates of increased jobs have nothing to do with additional port workers or truckers; the COE merely assumes that all of the money saved will be available for productive use elsewhere in the economy.

In his blog, he also writes:

The economic impact will NOT be from increased trade, but from cost savings and various efficiencies (fewer ships having to wait on the tides, more flexibility with larger vessels, etc.) that will be felt broadly across the economy. Some — maybe even most — of the savings will be for multinational shipping companies.

The Post and Courier notes that in the debate over dredging the channel, “The Savannah River is the battle line in what one lawmaker calls “this war between Savannah and Charleston,” but all the fighting is happening on the South Carolina side.”

Savannah and Charleston each are pursuing expensive plans to deepen their harbors to accommodate the huge container ships that are expected to call on the ports when the deepening of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014.

South Carolina and Georgia also are partners in a plan to develop the $5 billion Jasper Ocean Terminal, a new port on the Savannah River about six miles closer to the ocean than Georgia’s Garden City Terminal. But State Ports Authority officials say Jasper is unlikely to happen if the dredging for the Garden City goes forward.

SPA President Jim Newsome has said the Jasper project won’t make sense unless the Savannah River can be deepened to at least 50 feet, and wide enough for two-way shipping, as far as the Jasper site. He and others say that if a 48-foot deepening is approved now, further deepening for Jasper would be unlikely to happen.

Georgia Ports Authority President Curtis Foltz disagrees, saying in a recent interview that “the deepening will benefit the Jasper project and will save hundreds of millions of dollars in improving the site itself.”

On the political side, FITSNEWS notes that SC Gov. Nikki Haley may have had a role in the SCDHEC’s reversal of an earlier decision that denied a permit for the dredging:

Sources tell FITS that Katherine Veldran, the governor’s legislative liaison, confirmed Haley’s involvement in the SCDHEC decision during a heated exchange with a state lawmaker in a downtown Columbia, S.C. watering hole early Sunday morning.

Challenged by the lawmaker to justify the agency’s action, Veldran not only acknowledged that the governor’s office had a role in the decision- she implied that the decision was actually made by the Haley administration, not the SCDHEC board.

“That’s the best decision we have made since we’ve been in office,” Veldran allegedly told the lawmaker.

A State House lobbyist who witnessed the exchange independently confirmed Veldran’s quote – verbatim.

6 comments

  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “SPA President Jim Newsome has said the Jasper project won’t make sense unless the Savannah River can be deepened to at least 50 feet, and wide enough for two-way shipping, as far as the Jasper site.”

    It would actually make sense to deepen the Savannah River to 50 feet since the Panama Canal is being deepened to 50 feet to handle the largest ships possible.

  2. Todd Rehm says:

    Just a guess, LDIG, but 48 feet at Savannah may be sufficient because the higher water salinity causes ships to float higher than in the canal, which is fed by freshwater, obviating the need for 50 feet here.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Cool. Man, you really know your “ship”. LOL!

      Seriously, thanks for the info as you seem to be very knowledgable on this subject that seems to be of the utmost importance to both the state and the federal economies as evidenced by Secretary LaHood’s comments.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      The current Panama Canal is 41 feet deep and maximum draft of ships using the Canal is 39.5 feet. The new canal will be 60 foot deep, and maximum draft will be 50 feet. A channel not less than 54 feet is needed to accomodate a new maximum size Panamax ship.

      The draft may be increasing about 25% from 40 to 50 feet, but ship capacity is increasing 100%-150%. (~5,000+ to 13,000 plus 20-foot containers, the standard measurement though 40 and longer containers are more numerous.) The current two foot allowance between draft and channel bottom isn’t enough, and needs to increase 100% too. Norfolk and New York are the only US east coast harbors with new Panamax kind of depth (or the capability of achieving that kind of depth). No other east coast ports are greater than the low 40’s.

      There’s inertia in the water carrier business—there’s as much or more required landside than dockside in ramping up business. The port that is deepened first has a big leg up, and while 48 feet isn’t Norfolk / NY depth, it would be head and shoulders above the others.

      One of the reasons behind Savannah’s growth were the West Coast dock strikes /slow downs during the early to mid part of the last decade. The strikes / slow downs drove business to other ports. They tried us. They liked us. They stayed after the strikes /slow downs ended.

      • Cassandra says:

        I awaited this post, thanks Dave and Todd.

        The take-away is:

        1.) GA Gov. and Atlanta Mayor are united on this project of huge importance. Kudus to Cesar Mitchell who has advocated this project admirably.

        2.) In a political year, GA will benefit from Sec. LaHood’s assertion..

        3.) To Charleston, their Port is paramount, to Atlanta, Port of Savannah is a State revenue driver, thus cooperation with Gov. Deal is notable.

        4.) I wonder if Mr. Newsome doesn’t smell the green and is reaching for an even deeper dredge?

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