Dredging company wins contract for Savannah, vows to protect environment, marine habitat

By David Pendered

After 16 years of planning and debate over the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, the federal government announced Wednesday it has hired a company to begin the first phase of dredging.

Savannah dredging

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., which won the contract for the first phase of the Savannah deepening project, has a fleet of more than 200 specialized vessels and is completing the deepening of PortMiami. Credit: gldd.com

The company that won the contract, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. said in a statement that it intends to protect the environment during the project.

“As always, we will be committed to the safety of the public and our crew, as well as protecting the surrounding environment and marine habitat, while we deepen the shipping channel,” David Simonelli, president of dredging, said in the statement.

The first phase involves deepening the outer harbor from near Fort Pulaski out into the Atlantic Ocean for a distance of 18.5 miles. The start date for the project has yet to be determined.

The entire harbor deepening project consists of a deepening a 40-mile-long shipping channel and harbor stretching from the ocean to the terminal in Garden City. Once complete, Savannah is to be able to serve the large tankers that are to transit the Panama Canal once its expansion is completed late this year or in early 2016.

“After 16 years of study, it is gratifying to know that we can now move forward with the deepening of the Savannah River,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Savannah harbor diagram of channel deepening

This diagram shows the plan for deepening the channel leading to the Savannah Harbor. Credit: http://static.dvidshub.net/

“Today’s announcement has been made possible, in part, by the state’s $266 million investment into the port’s expansion,” Deal continued. “This crucial advancement in our logistics network will aid the prompt delivery of valuable cargo, preserving and creating economic opportunity across Georgia and the Southeast.”

Curtis Foltz, who has served as CEO of the Georgia Ports Authority since 2009, focused on the economic development aspects of the ships and their cargo that the Garden City terminal will be able to process.

“The harbor deepening, which begins in earnest with this contract, supports long-term economic viability and growth for our state and nation,” Foltz said in a statement.

“The 21,000 American businesses that rely on the Port of Savannah are projected to save $174 million a year through increased transportation efficiency. This project will ensure continued world-class service, allowing the Port of Savannah to better handle the larger, latest generation container ships already calling the East Coast.”

Savannah harbor deepening map

The first phase of work to deepen the Savannah Harbor involves dredging from near Fort Pulaski out into the Atlanta Ocean, along the existing channel, for a total distance of 18.5 miles. Credit: charts.noaa.gov, David Pendered

Foltz joined the ports authority as chief operating officer in 2004. The GPA board named him CEO to replace Doug Marchand, who stepped down as executive director in 2010.

The Army Corps of Engineers awarded the $134.5 million construction contract to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co., of Oak Brook, Ill. The company is now completing the deepening of PortMiami, which it’s to finish this year. It has a market of $356.6 million, according to wsj.com.

Great Lakes’ website says the company is the largest provider of dredging services in the U.S. and operates the, “ largest and most diverse fleet in the U.S. dredging industry, comprised of over 200 specialized vessels.”

Great Lakes CEO Jonathan Berger commended Georgia for its commitment to help fund the project. He cited the Savannah harbor’s role in the nation’s economy.

“The economic impact of the port deepening stretches far beyond Savannah or Georgia – it will be beneficial to the entire nation,” Berger said in the statement. “I am proud of our work on the PortMiami deepening, and I am confident that we will execute well on this next major port deepening project that is essential to maintaining the United States’ dominance in the global economy.”

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 for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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