AJC’s “Port Wars”: part one looks at uncertainties of global trade

I’m very disappointed that the AJC’s 3-part series “Port Wars” is only being published in print editions of the newspaper (one would have hoped such an investigation into a major state issue would have the maximum availability), but Sunday’s initial 2,500 word article by Dan Chapman appeared on Lexis Nexis.

Click here for part one, which talks about uncertainties regarding global shipping generally and Savannah specifically.

Regular readers of this blog and my columns already know the basic terrain of the issues laid out clearly in Corps of Engineers’ analyses:

  • The Corps of Engineers’ economic analysis says that the amount of cargo coming into Savannah will increase at the same rate with or without dredging.
  • With dredging, we’ll see fewer but larger ships.
  • With dredging, increased efficiencies will save shipping companies around $100 million per year.
  • With or without dredging, the Savannah ports will max out their current landside capacity in 2032.
  • There will be myriad environmental impacts, but the Corps thinks they can all be eliminated or adequately mitigated through a broad range of actions.

From the AJC’s first part of the series on Sunday, in which the Corps weighs in more clearly on jobs than ever before:

Politicians and port officials say Georgia’s $650 million gamble to deepen the Savannah River for supersized cargo ships is a crucial investment of tax dollars. It will, they say, have long-lasting impact: luring more goods and jobs all the way to Atlanta.

Yet no study and little evidence show the project — one of Georgia’s most expensive transportation ventures ever — is likely to do either.

In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees deepening work and undertook the project’s only economic impact study, predicted “no additional cargo volume through Savannah Harbor as a result of the proposed harbor deepening.”

Without more cargo, “we don’t expect a long-term change in the number of jobs,” corps spokesman Billy Birdwell wrote in a recent email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And this, in which Governor Deal directly contradicts the Corps’ analysis:

“We will have so much more cargo coming in and that, obviously, will create more jobs,” Deal told the AJC. “It will mean more rail cars and more 18-wheelers coming and going from the port. It will just be good for the entire state of Georgia.”

And this, in which the AJC muddles a number of issues:

The corps, which has spent $41 million and 15 years studying a deeper Savannah River, says the project won’t result in additional cargo for Georgia because it doesn’t expect a significant increase in world trade. And it concludes that the deepening will result in only 5,700 temporary “job equivalents” during construction.

Let’s be very clear: the Corps projects world trade to continue increasing rather dramatically. The Corps thinks that the Savannah harbor should be dredged and that there should be similar projects elsewhere, and that there will need to be new port facilities — like the proposed Jasper port along the Savannah River closer to the open ocean.

I’ve just picked out a few details from the AJC piece; I’d encourage all interested parties to read it. I’m glad the newspaper has finally gotten serious about looking at the actual studies that are behind the various arguments for dredging.

I hope to locate parts two and three on sites like Lexis Nexis soon.

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