Local leaders praise port project
by W. Winston Skinner
Greg Wright, president of the Coweta County Development Authority, and U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga. Third District, both say Wednesday’s passage of the House Water Resources Reform and Development Act is a key step.
The bill — approved earlier in the Senate in another version — moves the expansion of the Savannah harbor closer to reality. Business and government leaders in Georgia say expanding the port will have a major impact on Georgia’s economy.
“Coweta County companies — both large and small — have benefited from convenient access to Georgia's ports. The expansion of the Savannah port, coupled with the Panama Canal project, can only help existing Coweta companies grow and help with our industrial recruitment efforts,” Wright said Thursday.
“Georgia ports are one of the biggest drivers of our state’s economy and account for about one out of every 12 jobs in the state. That’s why it’s so important to support projects like the one to deepen the Savannah port,” Westmoreland said.
The Panama Canal is being deepened, which will allow larger ships to pass through its locks. Only ports that are large enough to handle those ships will benefit economically from what happens in Panama.
Being prepared to benefit from the Panama expansion is a key for Georgia to “remain an integral part of our country’s shipping industry,” said Westmoreland, a Republican who lives near Grantville and represents Coweta County in Congress.
The U.S. House passed the WRRDA on Wednesday. The bill authorizes the development and maintenance of the nation’s waterway infrastructure, among other critical projects.
The legislation includes a key provision that authorizes the funding necessary for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project to move forward. This provision will end a 14-year delay of the project to deepen the harbor from 42 to 47 feet in order to accommodate new supertankers that will soon be coming from the Panama Canal.
All 14 House members of the Georgia Congressional delegation voted for WRRDA, and both of Georgia’s senators voted for the Senate version of the bill earlier this year. Westmoreland said the Georgia delegation “worked tirelessly together to make sure … (WRDDA) included funding to deepen the Savannah port .”
Rep. Phil Gingrey, whose district formerly included part of Coweta, also commented on the importance of WRDDA. “Deepening the Port of Savannah is the single-most important economic development project in Georgia and the Southeast. Expanding the nation’s fastest-growing harbor and fourth-busiest port will create jobs, retain and attract businesses and maintain our competitive advantage.,” he said.
Gingrey’s wife, Billie, is from Newnan.
In addition to addressing Savannah port funding, the bill also leaves negotiations of drinking water rights — long an issue of contention between Georgia, Alabama and Florida — “something that should be decided among the states — without congressional involvement,” Westmoreland said.
President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers have deemed the Port of Savannah a “nationally and regionally significant infrastructure project.” Studies by the Army Corps of Engineers show a 5.5-to-1 benefit to cost ratio, meaning that for every dollar spent on the deepening, the nation will reap $5.50 in benefits.
According to 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.
On May 15, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 83-14. The House and Senate must reconcile their differences before sending a final bill to the president to sign into law.
PORTS' TONNAGE REACHES ALL-TIME PEAK
Records set in containers moved, total tonnage, and truck and intermodal moves have been reported by the Georgia Ports Authority.
Curtis Foltz, GPA executive director, said the record numbers were all from August. “We are extremely pleased by the strength of our August performance,” Foltz said. “Although we set new records in many categories during August, challenges remain in many of the global markets important to future trade volumes.”
Total tonnage in August reached 2.5 million tons, up 8.5 percent over the previous August, an increase of 196,674 tons. For the first two months of FY2014, the GPA has moved 4.74 million tons of freight across all docks, an increase of 219,317 tons, or 4.8 percent.
For the month, the GPA moved 280,873 twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs), for a 3.8 percent increase over August 2012. Measured by containers, the GPA moved 156,979 units in August, 30,331 of which were moved by intermodal rail. The rail moves are up 3 percent over the same month in the previous year, when the GPA moved 29,455 intermodal containers.
“The record intermodal volumes are supported by economic and environmental benefits of rail transport,” Foltz said. “Our strong partnerships with CSX and Norfolk Southern have increased our rail participation to over 19 percent of total throughput.
August saw 180,572 truck moves at the Garden City Terminal, another high for the Port of Savannah.
While it was not a record month for bulk cargo, the GPA still achieved significant growth in that sector. Over the four-and-a-half week period, bulk cargo accounted for 188,872 tons, up 51,781 tons or 37.8 percent compared to August 2012. Fiscal year-to-date growth was even more dramatic, rising by 112,000 to reach 363,786 tons of bulk cargo for a 44.5 percent jump compared to the same period in 2012.
“As new and existing customers increase volumes moved through the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, our facilities continue to grow — not only in tonnage and TEUs, but also in their impact on the nation’s economy,” said Robert Jepson, GPA board chairman.