The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could begin dredging the Savannah River navigation channel to a target depth of 47 feet as soon as the second half of this year, said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.
The Army Corps, which signed off last fall on the Record of Decision for SHEP, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, is poised to begin the necessary environmental mitigation along the Savannah River and could begin dredging as soon as the second half, Foltz said.
SHEP, which will be completed by mid-2016, a year after the Panama Canal opens its new locks to post-Panamax ships, will put Savannah ahead of its competitors among ports in the U.S. Southeast, Charleston and Jacksonville, which also are pursuing harbor deepening projects.
But Foltz said his major concern is not staying ahead of competing ports, but rather that the U.S. is falling behind other countries in the race to build critical port projects that will enable it to stay competitive in global trade.
“Every time I travel to Europe or China, I see the major port projects that they are building that will put them ahead of us,” he said in an interview with the JOC. “Our government hasn’t fully funded the maintenance of our harbors for a decade.”
He was referring to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which collects about $1.5 billion annually through the Harbor Maintenance Tax, of which only about half is used for harbor dredging. Congress siphons off about $700 million a year to fund the nation’s deficit and for other programs.
“We’ve got the funds, so why don’t we use it?” Foltz said.
In addition, Foltz called for Washington to enact a unified port policy that would allocate resources for port infrastructure projects, including deepening and maintenance, but also including improving road access to major ports. “We’re falling behind other countries, and we need to catch up,” he said.