The question no one is asking about cruise ships in Savannah

Next week we’ll get to take a look at a study about the viability of potential sites for a cruise ship terminal in Savannah.

The study has been completed by BEA Architects, which designs such facilities, so of course the document will argue for the viability of at least one site.

I’d love to have to eat my words on that last sentence, but, really, give me a break. Click here for more on the study.

But the question that we need to be asking before we waste any more public money and civic time debating this issue isn’t about the viability of the waterfront.

We need to be talking now to the folks at the Georgia Ports Authority, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Coast Guard (I guess they’d be the right people) about the viability of cruise ships in the same long channel that will carry an increasing amount of cargo traffic for the foreseeable future.

In fact, we’re on the verge of spending $700 million of public money on a massive economic stimulus project to increase the efficiency of private shipping companies that use the Savannah River. The deeper channel will allow larger ships and more heavily laden ships. Some vessels will no longer have to wait for higher tides before coming in from the sea.

We also have liquified natural gas (LNG) tankers that come routinely to the facility at Elba Island, and the frequency of those trips seems likely to increase too. As I understand it, river traffic is completely shut down when those tankers are in use.

So how are all these commercial interests going to react when they find out that cruise ships on relatively tight schedules have to use the Savannah River at specific times?

It seems sort of ridiculous to spend $700 million in large measure to speed up freight traffic and then turn around and lure cruise ships that seem likely to dramatically slow that traffic.

So before we get too deep into all this, it’s time for the folks at the Georgia Ports Authority to get involved in the discussion.