Metro Atlanta plays critical role in the trade that goes through the Savannah port

By Maria Saporta

Little did we know that the Savannah Port really could be known as Atlanta’s port.

That’s what Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, told members of the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Monday.

Of the $15.2 billion of trade that went through the port in 2010, “ 60 percent of it — $8.1 billion — came from metro Atlanta,” Foltz said.

“We are almost branded as an Atlanta port,” Foltz said to the gathering of Atlantans.

In fact, more than one-fifth of Savannah’s total trade — $3.6 billion — came from just one county — Fulton County.

Those figures probably explain why Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has become such an advocate at home and in Washington, D.C. for the deepening of the Savannah port.

Foltz went through a detailed explanation of why the deepening of the port is so important for the future of economic development in Georgia.

In one decade, the Savannah Port has gone from not even being in the top 10 ports in the country to being No. 4 in the country today, after Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York/New Jersey.

And growth at the Savannah port continues to outpace most of the other ports in the nation. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the volume of containers increased by more than 11 percent.

But Foltz said that the expansion of the Panama Canal, which will permit the passage of super tankers, will be completed in 2014. But the Savannah Port is not deep enough to accommodate the new super tankers.

“We are at 42 feet (deep), and that’s not sustainable,” Foltz said. “Half the ships will quit coming to us if we don’t get deeper water. Most other ports are in the 50-foot range.”

Foltz said that the Georgia Ports Authority began studying a possible Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in 1996. It received Congressional authorization in 1999.

“Here we are in 2011. We’ve spent $40 million in studies,” said Foltz, clearly frustrated by the amount of time it’s taken to get the project moving. “We believe there will be a decision in May of next year — $40 million and 12 years of study.”

As proposed, the Savannah Port expansion project would deepen the port to 48 feet, which Foltz said was critical to state’s economy.

“There are very, very few new business opportunities that come to the State of Georgia looking to do business that are not interested in the port’s plans for growth,” Foltz said.

During the question-and-answer portion, Metro Atlanta Chamber President Sam Williams asked Foltz what Rotarians could do to help garner federal support for the deepening project.

Foltz said that Gov. Nathan Deal and Mayor Reed have been “fantastic,” and that the two congressmen who represent the coast — U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and U.S. Rep. John Barrow — have been actively involved as have Georgia’s two U.S. Senators — Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.

But Foltz said that all of the elected leaders in the state “can’t be reminded enough that this is a top priority.”

By the way, Foltz almost could have held a board meeting during Rotary. Three of the Georgia Ports Authority’s 13-member board were present at the Rotary lunch — Jim Lientz (who introduced Foltz); Jim Balloun; and Sunny Park.

Also present were Herman Russell, a former chairman of the GPA board; and Keith Mason, also a former board chairman, who was on the search committee that hired Foltz.

Foltz joined the GPA staff in 2004 as chief operating officer. He became executive director in January, 2010.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

4 replies
  1. Question Man says:

    Didn’t Kingston just vote against raising the debt ceiling because the spending cuts weren’t large enough? But doesn’t Kingston want to sink a huge amount of federal dollars into the Port of Savannah? Why is it that I don’t understand that logic? Report

    Reply
  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    @Question Man

    It’s called politics, my friend. Almost every Republican politician these days has to traverse a gauntlet of angry Tea Party supporters who hold threaten to challenge and replace in the primary any GOP politician that doesn’t tell them what they want to hear. If Kingston wants to continue his career as a Republican in Congress, he had at the very least better talk the talk of smaller government and lower spending even if he doesn’t really mean it, but that’s okay though because he’s out there “Bringing Home the Bacon” to his Georgia Constituents by trying to secure federal dollars for a project of CRITICAL economic need to the State of Georgia. It’s a logic called “political survival”. Report

    Reply
  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    @Question Man

    It’s called politics, my friend. Almost every Republican politician these days has to traverse a gauntlet of angry Tea Party supporters who hold threaten to challenge and replace in the primary any GOP politician that doesn’t tell them what they want to hear. If Kingston wants to continue his career as a Republican in Congress, he had at the very least better talk the talk of smaller government and lower spending even if he doesn’t really mean it, but that’s okay though because he’s out there “Bringing Home the Bacon” to his Georgia Constituents by trying to secure federal dollars for a project of CRITICAL economic need to the State of Georgia. It’s a logic called “political survival”. Report

    Reply
  4. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    @Question Man

    It’s called politics, my friend. Almost every Republican politician these days has to traverse a gauntlet of angry Tea Party supporters who hold threaten to challenge and replace in the primary any GOP politician that doesn’t tell them what they want to hear. If Kingston wants to continue his career as a Republican in Congress, he had at the very least better talk the talk of smaller government and lower spending even if he doesn’t really mean it, but that’s okay though because he’s out there “Bringing Home the Bacon” to his Georgia Constituents by trying to secure federal dollars for a project of CRITICAL economic need to the State of Georgia. It’s a logic called “political survival”. Report

    Reply

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