The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the final documents on Wednesday for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project for review by state and federal agencies and the general public.
This is the next-to-last last step before the project to deepen the Savannah River to 48 feet from its present 42 feet receives final approval, a process that will have taken 15 years from start to final go-ahead.
The project still has to get approval from the Commerce and Interior Departments and the EPA as well as the Army Corps. Officials at the Georgia Ports Authority expects SHEP to get the final record of approval by late summer and work will begin later this year on mitigating the environmental impact of the project before dredging starts.
The project has encountered fierce resistance from South Carolina politicians who fear that it will give the Port of Savannah a competitive advantage over the Port of Charleston because it will have the water depth to handle the larger post-Panamax ships that will be able to transit the Panama Canal after it completes its new locks after 2014.
The South Carolina Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a law suit that would overturn the approval granted to SHEP by the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control.
In the studies released by the Corps, the project is estimated to cost $652 million and will provide $174 million in annual net benefits to the nation. For every dollar spent on this critical infrastructure improvement, 5.5 dollars will be returned in benefits to the nation, the Corps’ studies showed.
During a press conference, the Army Corps announced that SHEP will increase the depth of the Savannah River by an additional five feet to 47 feet at mean low water.
“We all know how critical this extra depth is to the ability of our nation to move cargo efficiently,” said Curtis Foltz, GPA’s executive director. “The depth, along with an average seven foot tide, strikes the right balance between the needs of our industry and the environment of the Savannah River. Nearly 40 percent of the project cost is dedicated to environmental mitigation, preservation of cultural resources or the improvements to river access for the public.”