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Dredge Chatry georgia port.jpg Georgia Port Authority

Savannah harbor expansion project enters final portion

Deeper harbor will save U.S. producers and retailers $282 million per year in transportation expenses.

The deepening of the Savannah harbor has set a new precedent, with four dredges working simultaneously, the Army Corps of Engineers announced.

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) includes two dredges keeping the channel at its current authorized depth of 42 ft., followed by two dredges taking the channel to its new depth of 47 ft. The dredges work without disrupting the flow of commercial traffic to or from the Port of Savannah, Ga., Garden City Terminal and other facilities along the river.

The entire deepening project is approximately 62% complete. The inner harbor constitutes the final portion. The outer harbor, a roughly 20-mile channel extending into the Atlantic Ocean, has already been deepened to 49 ft. at low tide.

"The Savannah District continues to manage the intensely complicated task of coordinating dredge actions and placement of dredged material to ensure safety, compliance with contract requirements and timeliness to reach our goal of completing this major deepening in January 2022," said Col. Daniel H. Hibner, commander of the Corps' Savannah District. "This effort ensures the harbor will improve the ability of Savannah to meet the demands of today and tomorrow."

With finely tuned coordination, each dredge and its associated support vessels must be at the right place at the right time. The two smaller maintenance dredges remove built-up shoaling and sediment and then move on, followed by the larger deepening dredges. All vessels must move aside whenever commercial vessels enter their area. In addition, workers must move pipelines leading from the dredges to the dredge material disposal areas. After commercial traffic passes, everything must return to continue the routine. All dredges work 24 hours a day, every day.

"The cooperation we receive from [the Georgia Ports Authority], our dredging contractors, the harbor pilots, the Coast Guard and others demonstrates the dedication this community has for deepening the Savannah harbor," Hibner said.

The federal government and the state of Georgia share the cost of the deepening. Georgia's Department of Transportation and the Georgia Ports Authority serve as the state sponsors for the project.

"Georgia's ports are among our greatest economic development assets and play a critical role in creating jobs and investment opportunities across the state," Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said. "Through the Port of Savannah, we feed the world with Georgia-grown products and support manufacturing and retail activity across the country. The improvements we are making today through the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will help ensure Georgia's economic vitality for decades to come."

Georgia Ports Authority executive director Griff Lynch said the progress surging ahead on SHEP is good news for port users.

"With the challenges our economy is facing, the savings a deeper harbor will mean for our customers can't come soon enough," Lynch said. "We're excited to see so much work getting done as the Corps of Engineers coordinates these efforts."

The project will allow today's larger container vessels to enter and leave the harbor during a longer tide window and with more cargo aboard. According to a Corps feasibility study, lower container slot costs on the larger vessels accommodated by the deeper harbor will save U.S. producers and retailers $282 million per year in transportation expenses. The study found that every dollar spent on construction will yield $7.30 in benefits.

Because the project will have such a large positive effect on the nation's economy, SHEP has received significant federal support. The federal budget for fiscal 2020 has devoted $130.3 million to SHEP, while another $28.6 million in maintenance and operations funding will go toward Savannah River maintenance dredging.

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