By David Pendered

Now that Congress has approved federal funding for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, construction is expected to begin this autumn.

Congress has approved funding to deepen the Savannah Harbor. Click on the image for a larger view or go to Credit: NOAA
Congress has approved funding to deepen the Savannah Harbor. Click on the image for a larger view or go to Credit: NOAA

The Georgia Ports Authority said Thursday the first construction projects are to include: dredging the Savannah channel entrance seven miles farther into the Atlantic Ocean; recovering the CSS Georgia ironclad warship; and mitigation features including a freshwater storage facility for Savannah.

Incidentally, Congress did not give Savannah an exclusive on a harbor-deepening project. Similar projects were approved for Boston and Jacksonville, Fla., enabling all of three ports to handle the bigger ships expected to visit the East Coast once the expanded Panama Canal opens next year, if the current construction schedule is maintained.

Boston’s harbor and the federal channel to Jacksonville, Fla. are to be deepened to 47 feet, according to project descriptions posted by and Savannah’s harbor is to be taken to 47 feet.

Georgia officials expect to pass the first milestone of this new phase within 90 days – the signing of financial agreements between the state and federal governments. The clock on this deadline starts ticking when President Obama signs the $12.3 billion water bill Congress sent him on Thursday.

The red buoy marks the site of the CSS Georgia, located near Fort Jackson. Credit:
The red buoy marks the site of the CSS Georgia, located near Fort Jackson. Credit:

Ports officials expect to begin construction by using the $266 million in state funding already provided for the project. The money spent will be applied to the state’s total share of the project once federal funding begins.

One significant benefit of the federal legislation for the Savannah project is that it lifts a spending limit set in 1999. Both state and federal funds will be able to flow to the project. Georgia has approved $266 million in bonds for the project.

In Georgia, officials who worked on this final effort to gain federal funds expressed optimism because Congress provided the funding, and hope that freight-laden ships will prove to be an economic benefit.

Gov. Nathan Deal:

  • “This landmark legislation will update an outdated spending cap that was put on the Savannah Harbor deepening project more than a decade ago, eliminating the last legislative hurdle and allowing us to use the money we have set aside to begin construction. With the understanding that we’ll have a federal-state split on funding, Georgia has lived up to its promises. We’ve now put aside $266 million — the total state share. This project is vitally important for economic development and job creation not only in the Southeast, but nationally as well.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed:

Confederates scuttled the CSS Georgia rather than allow her to be captured by Union Forces. Credit:
Confederates scuttled the CSS Georgia rather than allow her to be captured by Union Forces. Credit:

“I am honored to have been a part of the bipartisan group of Georgia leaders that have gotten us to this day. My vision is for Atlanta and Georgia to be the logistics hub of the Western Hemisphere, where ideas, people and goods connect. The Port of Savannah, with a deeper harbor, is an essential part of that vision.”

Georgia Ports Authority board Chairman Robert Jepson:

  • “After 16 years of study, we are now on the eve of construction. This project will provide significant annual benefits to American businesses, reducing shipping costs by $213 million a year – for a return on investment of $5.50 for every dollar spent to construct and maintain this project.”

Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz:

  • “Today’s action [Senate passage of the water bill] is an important step toward better accommodating the larger vessels that are the new standard in global shipping. Georgians owe a debt of gratitude to the members of our congressional delegation, who worked tirelessly for more than a decade to bring this day about. … The deepening will cut transportation costs by reducing transit delays for larger, more efficient Post-Panamax vesselss. Cost reductions of about 30 percent are expected, saving billions over the 50-year life of the project.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written...

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  1. Isn’t anyone interested in three important facts?:
    First, there is every likelihood that the 400 million dollar federal contribution to this project will never come.  If Georgia spends its 266 million and the feds delay or fail entirely, what then?  Well, what’s an additional 400 million to tax and spend Georgians?  Well?

    Second, the great cost benefit of this project touted by the Corps of Engineers and the Georgia corpro-politocracy has NOTHING to do with Savannah.  Virtually all of the savings claimed are from the very real cost efficiencies generated by huge ships.  The 747 effect, I call it.  These benefits will be reaped wherever the big ships load and unload.  Indeed, Savannah’s bottleneck channel will significantly reduce the benefits of the big ships compared with more suitable ocean ports.

    Third, even if the Panama Canal deepening is completed, (a big if considering that virtually none of the largest ships of choice today will be able to squeeze through the canal even after deepening, huge cost overruns, no way of servicing debt without charges so high shippers will be tempted to use over-land or Suez access, and ever-growing completion delays), At 47 feet Savannah will not be able to accommodate the biggest ships which will be able to get through the deepened Panama Canal, much less the much larger ships which won’t,  (After deepening ships passing through the Panama Canal will be limited to about 13,000 teus, there are already container ships carrying 18,000 teus, and 22,000 teu ships are under development,  None of these larger ships will be able to navigate the 38 mile long, narrow, winding, Savannah channel,

    Since Georgia’s press has joined in the cover-up of these fatal-facts regarding Savannah Harbor deepening, Georgians should understand there is a BIG problem with booster-press coverage.  Is there any other in Georgia?

    steve willis, savannah

  2. Steve Willis You picked the wrong venue to look for even-handed treatment of this issue. Deepening Savannah Harbor is ballyhooed as an important issue for metro Atlanta, with all its unbridled boosterism. This boosterism has been around for well over a century, as Franklin Garrett reported in “Atlanta and Environs”, “If Atlanta could suck as well as it blows, it would be a seaport.”

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