Georgia ports thrive, plan $1.4 billion expansion to grow business: GPA ED

By David Pendered

Georgia’s ports are on a roll, and the Georgia Ports Authority has drawn up a $1.4 billion plan to expand port facilities over the next decade in order to cement Georgia ports as the primary ones to serve the entire Southeast U.S., the authority’s executive director, Curtis Foltz, said Thursday.

Dock workers in Savannah handled more than 333,000 containers in March. Credit: File/GPA

Longshoremen enabled the Savannah port to handle a record amount of cargo without delay. Credit: File/GPA

Foltz was in full form as he spoke at 2015 State of the Port meeting, in Savannah. Foltz brought a higher level of energy to his remarks than in prior years. That may due to Georgia’s ports setting records over the past year, in terms of containers handled on the dock and delivered by rail, through a massive team effort.

GPA issued a statement that outlines Foltz’ presentation. Funding for expansion is to come from the ports’ revenues, much like Atlanta’s airport funds expansions with its revenues.

The GPA statement notes, for instance, that:

  • “In [fiscal year] 2015, a record 3.66 million twenty-foot equivalent container units crossed the docks at the Port of Savannah – a jump of 17 percent, or more than half a million TEUs. Of that cargo, 369,347 containers moved by rail, an 11 percent increase over the previous year.”

Foltz portrayed the Savannah port, in particular, as the center of a vast and expanding logistics hub that already is the nation’s fourth busiest – and fastest growing – port, in terms of cargo shipped in 20-foot-long containers.

These containers are the standard in the shipping industry. Named TEUs, for Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, they are built to be moved by a crane between a cargo ship and a truck trailer.

Of note, Foltz paid special attention to the work done by Savannah’s longshoremen.

Containers are transferred to rail cars at the Savannah port's Chatham Rail Intermodal Facility. Credit: GPA

Containers are transferred to rail cars at the Savannah port’s Chatham Rail Intermodal Facility. File/Credit: GPA

Without their support, Savannah never would have been able to achieve the records it did over the past year – a time that West Coast ports were hobbled by disputes with longshoremen. The West Coast shut-downs resulted in diversions to Savannah that could have overwhelmed the port had disputes reached a level that couldn’t be accommodated.

Foltz interrupted his prepared comments to mark the arrival at the meeting of Willie Seymore, EVP of the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast District of the International Longshoremen’s Assoc.

Seymore, a Savannah longshoreman, was elected as EVP, the No. 2 position in the district, after he helped avert a strike in 2013 that could have shut down ports from Maine to Louisiana, according to published reports.

Foltz called Seymore his, “ILA friend.” Foltz said Seymore had called him Thursday morning to wish him good luck with the speech and to tell him that Seymore may arrive a little late to the meeting because of travel delays.

“None of this [cargo growth] could happen without ILA partnership,” Foltz said. “We meet regularly. We had a lot of folks working around the clock with very little time off. That’s how we handled the growth without service issues, and differentiates what we do here in Georgia and at Georgia Ports Authority.”

Foltz named a number of partnerships that enable GPA to serve customers.

For example, the roadway improvements built and planned to serve the Savannah port represent a lot more than congestion relief: “We’re effectively going to bring [U.S. highways] 16 and 95 directly into our container facility.”

As the Savannah port’s property is built out, the strategic plan is to ratchet up efficiency: “If we are finished with expansions, then we have to speed up the pace at which containers move through the facility – there are levers we can pull.”

The market has already eclipsed the expansion of the Panama Canal in terms of the size of cargo ships sailing the seas: “31 percent of ships that called last year were too large to go through the [existing] Panama Canal. … Big ships are already here. We’ve got to get this deepening project done, and done as swiftly as possible.”

 

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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