Posted September 26, 2019
The Georgia Ports Authority has announced plans to establish a new container port on Hutchinson Island across the Savannah River from its 1,200-acre Ocean Terminal.
The 200-acre expansion will bring the Port of Savannah’s annual capacity to 11 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs), up from the current 5.5 million TEUs a year.
“It’s a big deal. Hutchinson Island can offer between 2.5 to 3 million TEUs of capacity and we’re really excited about it. We already own the land and it can be rail served, which is exciting,” GPA executive director Griff Lynch said this month during the annual State of the Ports address. “It’s going to be a great project.”
It will be 2026 or 2027 before the new port expansion is operational and Lynch said the expansion would be about a $1.8 billion investment for GPA.
After the Hutchinson Island port expansion, GPA will move to expand the Garden City Terminal. The goal is to bring the new capacity online in a way that has zero impact on customers, Lynch said.
Next year, the Garden City Terminal will receive six additional ship-to-shore cranes, bringing its fleet to 36, more than any other terminal in North America. Lynch said GPA plans continual upgrades to its crane fleet, which will include 12 new cranes with a lift height of 170 feet by 2027.
GPA is also planning a berth realignment to allow docking for more 14,000-TEU vessels on the downriver end of Garden City Terminal. By 2027, the additional cranes, revamped dock space and a new Hutchinson Island terminal will allow the Port of Savannah to significantly increase big ship capacity.
Last year during the State of the Port event, Lynch unveiled a vision for the possible replacement or raising of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, which spans the Savannah River, to accommodate larger ships.
Lynch said the Georgia Department of Transportation has a consultant looking at Talmadge replacements and alternatives with a report due early next year.
Also contributing to the effort to welcome larger ships to the port is the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Dredging of the final phase, the inner harbor, will begin later this month, Lynch said.
“We are ready to stop talking about digging and start talking about bigger ships,” Lynch said, noting that SHEP has been in the works for more than 20 years.
The inner harbor deepening consists of 22 miles from near Jones Island to the Garden City Terminal. Jones Island is between Fort Pulaski and Tybee Island.
The project will deepen the river from 42 to 47 feet to accommodate larger, fully loaded ships and allow for fewer tidal restrictions. The deepening portion of the project has two phases, the outer channel and inner harbor. Dredge work to deepen the 20-mile entrance channel was completed in March 2018.
Several Jasper County officials said this week they were concerned about the future of the planned Jasper Ocean Terminal after hearing about GPA’s expansion plans.
Georgia and South Carolina plan to jointly operate the future terminal on the Jasper County side of the Savannah River with the ports in Charleston and Savannah expected to eventually reach capacity. The S.C. Ports Authority said the Jasper port remains on track to open in 2035.
“The Jasper Ocean Terminal Joint Venture continues pre-permitting and transportation planning for the project,” a spokesperson said.
At the Sept. 16 meeting of Jasper County Council, several council members said they attended the State of the Ports address and the Hutchinson Island port announcement left them concerned.
Councilmen Curtis Brantley and Henry Etheridge said they hope the Jasper port will remain on schedule. Chairman Tom Johnson said officials will continue to fight for the port.
GPA officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week on whether their plans could impact the Jasper port’s timeline.
Jasper County Sun Times reporter Shellie Murdaugh contributed to this report.