The signing by the U.S. Army Corps of the Record of Decision for the long-delayed Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is expected to give the port a leg up in its battle to preserve its place as the largest container port in the U.S. South Atlantic.
The Georgia Ports Authority said the signing completes the federal government’s review of the project’s justification, and affirms that deepening the Savannah harbor to 47 feet is economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and in the best interests of the nation.
“This is a historic moment for the state of Georgia, and a great day for the nation,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said on Tuesday. “Very few federal infrastructure projects yield $5.50 for every dollar invested, so taxpayers will receive a handsome return on the Savannah harbor expansion.”
Now that the Army Corps has given SHEP, as the project is known, the final go-ahead, construction can begin almost immediately. Before dredging gets under way, preparations for protecting the river’s environment will begin.
Georgia, which is responsible for about a third of the project cost, has already committed $181.1 million to the estimate cost of $652 million. SHEP will deepen the navigation channel from its current 42-foot depth to 47 feet deep to accommodate more heavily loaded vessels and the larger container ships expected when the Panama Canal opens its new set of locks in 2015.
“Ships such as the 9,200-TEU MSC Roma already call on Savannah via the Suez Canal,” GPA Vice Chairman Steve Green said. “The Panama expansion 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.”
The Army Corps' approval comes after 15 years of study and collaboration between the GPA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NOAA Fisheries Service, and other federal and state agencies, as well as nongovernmental stakeholders, to identify and address all environmental concerns.