Savannah River dredging approved for 47′, not 48′: will one foot matter?

As I noted earlier, the Corps of Engineers has signed off on dredging with the release today of its final report on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, with a final price tag of about $650 million, but don’t expect that decision to put the matter to rest.

Critically — or perhaps not so critically — the Corps approved a dredging to 47 feet (from 42 currently) as being in the best economic interest for the nation. But Georgia officials wanted a depth of 48 feet. Meanwhile, growing objections from South Carolina have argued that the depth should be at least 50 feet at least as far as the proposed Jasper port along the Savannah River closer to the open ocean than the existing port.

At either 47 or 48 feet, the Savannah River would still have less depth than a handful of other rival ports on the East Coast.

From Corps cuts Savannah port deepening by a foot by Dan Chapman in the AJC:

Federal officials concluded Wednesday that the Savannah River should be deepened by a foot less than previously planned, a change that could limit gains in the port’s ability to handle bigger ships in the future.

In a much-anticipated report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it’s more cost-effective to deepen to 47 feet instead of the long-proposed 48 feet to handle ever-larger cargo ships that may soon ply East Coast waters.

State and metro Atlanta officials are pushing hard for the deepening due to the port’s importance to the regional economy. Nearly 100,000 jobs in metro Atlanta are directly tied to the distribution of goods that come through Georgia ports. However, a recent examination by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution questioned the supposed job and economic benefits of a deepened port of Savannah.

I have links to the AJC’s Port Wars series here, here, and here.

And the impact of that one foot on actual commerce. From the AJC piece today:

Rick Wen, a vice president with Hong Kong-based OOCL , a top 10 shipping company, said the 1-foot difference could translate to 800 containers per ship. Importers won’t likely shy away from Savannah’s shallower depth, Wen said, because in-bound cargo is generally light weight and doesn’t need as much leeway. But exporters who ship heavy Georgia kaolin, timber and machinery “will definitely be affected,” he added.

The AJC piece also notes the high cost of environmental mitigation. It’s well worth a read.

The Charleston Post and Courier has also focused on that one foot: Corps calls for 47-foot-deep Savannah River to serve GA port

From that quite short piece (which could be expanded later, of course):

South Carolina State Ports Authority officials have repeatedly said that a depth of 47 feet would be insufficient for the planned multi-billion-dollar Jasper Ocean Terminal, and that a depth of 50 feet would be necessary. The Jasper terminal would be closer to the ocean than the Port of Savannah.