The Blog

Savannah Harbor Expansion Project

Posted on February 04, 2019

By: Mathilde Carpet

In early 2015, construction was started to expand the Savannah Harbor. Currently, the harbor has a depth of 42 feet below mean low low-water. This means that at low tide, the Savannah River has an average depth of 42 feet. The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, or SHEP, would deepen the harbor and the shipping channel to 47 feet below mean low low-water. 

This deepening would allow newer, larger cargo vessels to use the port without as many tidal restrictions. Currently, ships have to wait for the appropriate tide to be able to navigate the shipping channel and harbor. Having fewer ships entering and leaving the harbor would lessen congestion in the area, as well as increasing efficiency and lowering costs. There has been an increase in the use of larger ships ever since the Panama Canal expansion was completed in 2014. 

The Savannah Harbor is the fourth busiest port in the nation, and second busiest on the East Coast. In fiscal year 2018, the port handled 4.2 million TEUs, or twenty-foot equivalent units. This was an increase of 8.4% over fiscal year 2017. This is just a continuation of dramatic growth, as it is the 24th month of growth. 

There are several parts and components to the expansion. The first is the recovery and conservation of the CSS Georgia, a confederate war ship that has been on the bottom of the Savannah River for centuries. Thousands of artifacts have already been retrieved. The next step is the dredging of the outer harbor. This phase of the project was completed in March of 2018. The dredging of the inner harbor is set to begin this year. However, this phase cannot begin until the state has been assured that the dissolved oxygen injection system is working as planned. 

The dissolved oxygen injection system is a complex series of machines that will take river water, infuse it with oxygen bubbles, and then inject the water back into the bottom of the river. This is all to ensure the wellbeing of the fish and other aquatic life that may be affected by the lower oxygen content of deeper water. The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to spend approximately $100 million on the development and testing of these machines. 

This expansion project is expected to compromise approximately 283 acres of marshlands. In order to counter this, the Army Corps has purchased more than 2,200 acres of freshwater marsh to add to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Additionally, 28 acres of brackish marsh are to be restored. One of the last phases of the project will be to re-route the flow of some of the surrounding waterways in order to accommodate the migratory and mating patterns of the wildlife affected. 

The SHEP is expected to cost $973 million. The federal government is supposed to cover 75% of the costs, with the State of Georgia covering the remaining 25%. Even though this is a steep price tag, the benefits to the state and national economy make this project well worth it, with annual net benefits projected at $282 million and a 7.3-to-1 return on invested dollars to the national economy. These benefits come from increased efficiency in shipping, since ships will have an increased capacity and fewer restrictions when it comes to the timing of entering andleaving the harbor. There have been some concerns recently in relation to the federal funds, since they are appropriated to the Army Corps of Engineers. With the President’s recent threats to divert Army Corps funds from their numerous projects to building a wall along the southern border, some have wondered whether that would pause or delay the expansion of the project. However, Buddy Carter, the congressman from the 1st district, told the Savannah Morning News that he highly doubted that funds would be diverted. He did also say that he has no assurances of this. 

All the while the harbor is being expanded, there is another major project underway: that of the Georgia Port Authority’s Mason-Mega Rail expansion. This is a massive expansion of the railroads surrounding the harbor, intended to increase Savannah’s annual rail capacity to 1 million containers. This added rail capacity will allow the port to accommodate 10,000-foot-long trains on its Garden City Terminal, making it the largest on-terminal rail facility in North America. The expansion would also significantly improve traffic on GA 21 and 25, since the trains will be able to avoid 2 dozen rail crossings. Additionally, the Georgia Department of Transportation has plans to build an overpass in Garden City, so that the trains would circumvent the city and avoid traffic there. 

Overall, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project has been proceeding as planned. Barring any funding or unexpected delays, the project should be complete in 2022. This, in conjunction with the Mason-Mega Rail expansion, will maintain Georgia’s incredibly important role in the world of the shipping of all goods, consumer and production. These expansion projects are also expected to make a significant reduction in the number of tractor trailers on the roads, which will help to alleviate the general congestion of Georgia roads. 

Sources: 

Army Corps of Engineers. (n.d.). SHEP Progression Chart. Retrieved from https://www.sas.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Savannah-Harbor-Expansion/ 

Army Corps of Engineers. (2017, April 7). Savannah Harbor Expansion Project Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.sas.usace.army.mil/Portals/61/SHEP FAQs – 07 April 2017.pdf 

Associated Press. (2018, March 04). $973 million deepening of Savannah harbor nearing halfway point. Retrieved from https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/business/aroundregion/story/2018/mar/04/973m-deepening-savannah-harbor-nearing-halfwa/464946/ 

Komanecky, D. (2018, September 17). Savannah port grows again, funds $92 million rail expansion. Savannah Morning News. 

Komanecky, D. (2018, November 13). Port of Savannah sets all-time record. Savannah Morning News. 

Komanecky, D. (2019, January 15). Rep. Buddy Carter: Compromise ‘out there’ regarding shutdown, updates on effect locally. Savannah Morning News.