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Georgia officials pushing to study another deepening of Savannah’s harbor get a key endorsement

Posted on March 27, 2024

Georgia officials picked up a key congressional endorsement Monday as they seek a federal study on whether the shipping channel to the Port of Savannah should be deepened again following a harbor expansion that was completed in 2022 and cost nearly $1 billion.

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said during a visit to the port that he supports authorizing the study as part of a sprawling infrastructure bill being drafted in his committee.

“One of those things that we want to make sure is a priority is further expansion of the port here in Savannah,” Graves told port employees and reporters as cranes unloaded a large ship at the dock. “It’s a priority of mine to get this study done.”

Less than two years have passed since the Army Corps of Engineers finished the last project, which added 5 feet (1.5 meters) of depth to the stretch of the Savannah River connecting the port to the Atlantic Ocean. The expansion cost state and federal taxpayers $937 million.

The Georgia Ports Authority has been pushing for Congress to consider another round of deepening Savannah’s shipping channel. The agency’s leaders say ever-growing classes of enormous cargo ships need even deeper water to be able to reach the port with full loads during lower tides.

Savannah has the fourth-busiest U.S. seaport for cargo shipped in containers — giant metal boxes used to transport goods ranging from consumer electronics to frozen chickens. Savannah handled 4.9 million container units of imports and exports in the 2023 calendar year.

“When you come to this port and ride by all these ships, you don’t even have to sell it to anybody,” said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a fellow Republican who joined Graves at the port. “Just let them look and they can see how unbelievable it is.”

Both of Georgia’s Democratic senators and each its House members — nine Republicans and five Democrats — signed a Jan. 26 letter to leaders of Graves’s committee as well as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee urging them to approve a study. The letter said an increasing percentage of ships arriving at Savannah have to wait for higher tides to reach the port.

“There’s no such thing as standing still,” U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, a Georgia Republican whose district includes the port, said during Graves’ visit. “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. We need to continue to move forward. That’s why we need this study so much.”

Graves said he’s pushing to get the 2024 Water Resources Development Act, including authorization for the Army Corps to study another Savannah harbor expansion, before the full House for a vote this summer.

That would be an early step in a long process.

Feasibility studies on the prior round of dredging began in 1997, and nearly two decades passed before it could begin. The job was finally completed in May 2022.

Georgia Ports Authority CEO Griff Lynch has said he believes the Army Corps, which oversees navigation projects in U.S. waterways, could work more efficiently this time and finish a new one within 10 years.


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