Next phase starts in Savannah River deepening

12:00 p.m Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 Business
Finally, after nearly two decades of engineering and environmental studies, bureaucratic delays and political shenanigans, the 41-mile long deepening of the Savannah River can begin. (Video by Brant Sanderlin, Ryon Horne/AJC)

Crews have started a new phase in the deepening of the Savannah River, the nearly $1 billion project to allow bigger ships to pass with fewer restrictions to the state’s bustling main port.

The Army Corps of Engineers said work started last week on the final segment of dredging in the river’s outer channel. The corps Monday news release said contractor Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. will employ up to five “hopper dredges,” which can be used in the colder months before spring.

The hopper dredges, the corps said, are faster-moving and are less likely to encounter wildlife during the winter and early spring.

The corps will start the deepening of the river’s inner harbor from Fort Pulaski to the Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City Terminal after further environmental work and mitigation, the release said.

“This major push by the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company will complete the deepening from Fort Pulaski and ending nearly 20 miles into the Atlantic Ocean to 47 feet,” Spencer Davis, Project Manager for the deepening project, said in the release. “This is the first step to allow the larger, neo-Panamax container ships to enter the harbor with fewer tidal restrictions.”

The harbor and river deepening is Georgia’s biggest economic development project. The ships are limited by tides and can’t make their way to the port fully loaded at the current depth.

Corps officials announced earlier this year that the project would take two years longer and cost 38 percent more to complete due to construction cost increases and contract bidding. Construction work is now scheduled to wrap up in January 2022.

Georgia’s ports enjoyed a record breaking year for cargo in the past fiscal year, buoyed in part by a wave of larger ships passing through the Panama Canal. The state’s ports moved 3.85 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) container units in the 12 months ended in June, up 6.7 percent from the prior year. Total tonnage grew by 8.3 percent.

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