Port deepening has advocates, oppositionBy W. WINSTON SKINNER
Deepening the port at Savannah could have strong economic impact for Coweta County, but the proposal has powerful advocates – and opponents.
Environmental groups have filed suit in an effort to stop the project, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced last year he was seeking $50 million in new funds for deepening the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Deal announced his support at a meeting of the Georgia Ports Authority board.
Approval of Deal’s goal would increase state funding for the deepening project to $231.1 million. Overall, the cost of the project is anticipated to be $652 million.
The Record of Decision, signifying final federal approval for the project, was issued in October, allowing for construction to begin in 2013.
“Studies indicate that the port deepening will reduce shipping costs by at least $213 million a year,” said Robert Jepson, Georgia Ports Authority board chairman. “The 5.5-to-1 benefit-to-cost ratio demonstrates that the expenditure would be a wise investment of federal dollars.”
“The milestone decision made thus far by our federal agencies along with strong support from the state signifies great confidence in the surety and soundness of our deepening plan,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.
Georgia’s deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support more than 352,000 jobs throughout the state annually and contribute $18.5 billion in income, $66.9 billion in revenue and $2.5 billion in state and local taxes to Georgia’s economy. The Port of Savannah was the second busiest U.S. container port for the export of American goods by tonnage in FY2011.
The port also handled 8.7 percent of the U.S. containerized cargo volume and 12.5 percent of all U.S. containerized exports in FY2011.
Deal also talked about the importance of the ports project at the Georgia Farm Bureau State Convention at Jekyll Island in December. “Agriculture exports are a major part of the overall economy of our state and are one of the reasons our Port of Savannah remains one of the very few in the United States that has more exports than imports,” Deal said.
Deal told the GFB conventioneers that Georgia pecans have been discovered by the rest of the world and are now being shipped to China and India.
Deal said Georgia’s ag export markets are one of the reasons it is crucial the port be deepened to accommodate the larger ships that will come through the expanded Panama Canal, which is expected to be completed in 2014 or 2015.
“If the ships can’t stop at our port, they will be forced to continue up the East coast, and we will lose out on that business. We will lose out on the efficiency and the economy of reduced shipping costs, and as a result, our state will suffer,” Deal said.
Millions of dollars in components and products come through the ports and then to Coweta, and millions of completed products are shipped from Coweta to the ports for shipping around the world.
“It is a simple but important connect-the-dots situation,” Candace Boothby, president of the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview last year. “Coweta has major international businesses that utilize the Savannah port to import and export tens of millions of dollars of products.”
The impact of the ports “creates new jobs and stabilizes current employment in Coweta,” Boothby said. She said the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project “is absolutely critical to the continued success of Coweta industries.”
Foltz said officials would “continue to work diligently with our leaders in Washington to cultivate further funding for a successful port deepening.”