Work is continuing on the dredging of the Port of Savannah as the port reports record growth.
The ongoing dredging project is aimed at enabling Savannah – and the related port in Brunswick – to handle larger ships coming because of expansion of the Panama Canal. The Panama expansion was completed last year.
While Brunswick and Savannah are hours away from Coweta’s borders, they play a major role in the local economy.
Industries in Coweta get raw materials that come through the ports, and many items on local retailers shelves arrive at the ports by ship and are trucked from the coast. In addition, local manufacturers use the ports to send their wares around the world.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the ports expansion. There are 10 separate phases to the project. Four are in the design phase, and the final phase – marsh restoration – has not yet been posted for bidders.
The other five phases are between 25-80 percent complete.
The Georgia Ports Authority operates the ports and reported record use in January. There was double-digit growth across all business sectors and a 26 percent increase in total tonnage.
"The Port of Savannah is unrivaled in its connectivity into the heartland of the U.S.," said Griff Lynch, the authority’s executive director. "With on-terminal efficiencies bolstered by interstates within minutes of the port – and the fastest westward rail transit in the South Atlantic region, (the port’s) Garden City Terminal provides more reliable, more cost effective freight movement."
Lynch credited those supply chain efficiencies for the record 3 million tons of cargo GPA moved in January, up 623,504 tons compared to the same month a year ago.
Containerized trade saw strong growth, with 331,468 twenty-foot equivalent units crossing the docks at the Port of Savannah, up 16.2 percent, or 46,167 TEUs. Of that trade, loaded containers accounted for approximately 268,000 TEUs, also a record.
At the Port of Brunswick, bulk cargo more than doubled to 235,802 tons in January, an increase of 125,998 tons. Meanwhile, breakbulk cargo handled at Ocean Terminal in Savannah and at the Mayor's Point and Colonel's Island terminals in Brunswick grew by 17.7 percent to 211,575 tons, an increase of 31,796 tons.
Roll-on/Roll-off trade improved by 7 percent, with 52,778 units of cars, trucks and tractors moving across GPA docks in January, an increase of 3,389 vehicles compared to last year.
"The phenomenal growth at Georgia's ports speaks to the powerful, vibrant economy of Georgia and the Southeastern U.S.," said Jimmy Allgood, chairman of the port authority board.
The growth comes at a time when there is a focus on the port regionally and at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.
GPA and the Virginia Port Authority are looking at ways to work together. On Feb. 24, they filed paperwork with the Federal Maritime Commission to create the East Coast Gateway Terminal Agreement. The compact would encourage voluntary cooperation in operations, supply chain, safety, communications and customer service.
Lynch and John Reinhart, the Virginia ports CEO and executive director, issued a joint statement: “The states of Georgia and Virginia have made the necessary investments to prepare for this new era in global trade. The East Coast Gateway Terminal Agreement is an innovative collaboration that will allow us to find new ways to become more efficient and effective.”
The Georgia Senate has passed Senate Bill 89, the Georgia Right Track Act. “Senate Bill 89 would provide for state investments in railways, railroad facilities and all necessary equipment,” State Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming) said. The bill, which still needs to clear the state House, aims to ensure rail lines from the ports are adequate for the need and allows the Georgia transportation commissioner to oversee the Georgia Freight Railroad Program.
“These investments and program will enhance Georgia’s transportation system and ensure that it remains safe,” Williams said. He said the process of moving containers from the ports by semi-trucks causes “irreparable damage to our state’s roads and highways.”
According to the ports authority, Georgia's deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support more than 369,000 jobs throughout the state annually and contribute $20.4 billion in income, $84.1 billion in revenue and $2.3 billion in state and local taxes to Georgia's economy.
Allgood sees even better days ahead for the ports. "As we continue to expand our transportation infrastructure through a deeper harbor, the largest crane fleet of any U.S. terminal, unmatched interstate connections and a mega-terminal for rail, you will see our ports continue to capture market share and bring new business to the state,” he said.