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Ports, leaders applaud Corps’ study

POSTED: April 12, 2012 8:09 p.m.
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Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, discusses the findings released by the Army Corps of Engineers on the proposed deepening of the Savannah harbor. The Corps’ study said the harbor should be deepened an additional five feet, to 47 feet, and the estimated cost of the project is $652 million. Alongside Foltz is Col. Jeff Hall, commander of the Corps’ Savannah District.

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After 15 years of study, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced Wednesday that it had released the final documents for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) for review by state and federal agencies and the general public.

 "The study released today clearly shows that the deepening of the Savannah port will produce powerful economic benefits to the nation and to Georgia," said Gov. Nathan Deal. "Today marks an important milestone for the Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Georgia and the great number of Americans who will benefit from the project."

In the studies released by the Corps, the project is estimated to cost $652 million and will provide $174 million in annual net benefits to the nation. For every dollar spent on this critical infrastructure improvement, 5.5 dollars will be returned in benefits to the nation, the Corps’ studies showed.

"This study has been a model of collaboration among a wide array of stakeholders — at local, state and federal levels," said Maj. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander of the Corps of Engineers’ South Atlantic Division. "It has been a great pleasure to be on this team as it worked diligently through difficult issues to come up with a plan which balances the complex engineering, economic, and environmental aspects of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. It is an impressive achievement."

During a press conference, the USACE announced that the SHEP will increase the depth of the Savannah River by an additional five feet to 47 feet at mean low water.

"We all know how critical this extra depth is to the ability of our nation to move cargo efficiently," said Curtis Foltz, GPA’s executive director. "The depth, along with an average seven foot tide, strikes the right balance between the needs of our industry and the environment of the Savannah River. Nearly 40 percent of the project cost is dedicated to environmental mitigation, preservation of cultural resources or the improvements to river access for the public."  

Elected officials and business leaders throughout the region heralded the news as a critical step forward in attracting investment and retaining jobs and business.

"Today’s announcement brings to an end 15 years of exhaustive due diligence," said Alec Poitevint, GPA’s Chairman of the Board. "With this important step forward, we are closer to putting in place infrastructure that will create economic opportunities across many industries and state lines. Companies relocate to and expand in the Southeastern United States knowing that the Port of Savannah is the fourth-busiest and single largest container terminal in the U.S."

The study culminates 14 years of study, analysis and coordination with state and federal agencies and several other stakeholders, said Col. Jeff M. Hall, commander of the Corps’ Savannah District.

"The final report represents the most comprehensive study for harbor deepening in the nation’s history," Hall said. "We are confident that our report is thorough and strong, and that the project will enhance the nation’s global competitiveness while sustaining the natural environment."

U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., applauded the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to release its final report for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) for review by state and federal agencies and the general public.

"Today’s announcement marks a vital milestone in the ongoing process of deepening the Port of Savannah," said Chambliss. "This project is critically important to ensure Savannah is able to accommodate global shipping traffic once the expansion of the Panama Canal is complete in 2014. This would bring more jobs and businesses not just to Georgia, but to the entire Southeast."

 "I am delighted to see the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project continue to move forward with today’s milestone,"

said Isakson. "Preparing the Port of Savannah for the vessels of the future is absolutely critical to our economy at both the state and national levels, and I will continue to do all that I can to see this project through to its completion."

Said U.S.Rep. John Barrow (D-Augusta): "We’ve got to get the Savannah port deepened. Deepening this port has been one of my top priorities, because it’s vital for long-term job growth in Georgia. I’m happy to see any additional progress for this project, and I’ll continue to work with every member of Georgia’s delegation to see that we complete this project."

The Corps is expected to sign the Record of Decision—the final step in the process before construction can begin— in late 2012.

The final report — consisting of a General Re-evaluation Report (GRR) and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — concluded that deepening the harbor to 47 feet is economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and in the best interests of the U.S.

The studies, authorized by Congress, concluded that deepening the Savannah Harbor to 47 feet will bring $174 million in annual net benefits to the United States. Savannah has the fastest growing container port in the nation but has the shallowest depth of its major worldwide trading partners.

The estimated total cost for the project, based on fiscal year 2012 levels, is $652 million, cost-shared by the federal government and the state of Georgia.

Of the total cost, 45 percent accounts for environmental mitigation features at $292 million. Environmental features include flow-rerouting for marsh restoration, a fish bypass upstream near Augusta for the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon, a dissolved oxygen injection system, recovery of the ironclad CSS Georgia, a 10-year post-construction monitoring period, and more.

The public can view the report online at http://www.sas.usace.army.mil/shexpan/Home.html . Comments can be submitted in writing to: Headquarters, US Army Corps of Engineers, CECW-P (SA), 7701 Telegraph Road, Alexandria, VA 22315-3860. The official closing date for the receipt of comments is May 20, which is 30 calendar days from the date the notice of availability appears in the Federal Register.

During the news conference, Corps leaders urged the general public to communicate their support for the project to leadership throughout the country. Additional information regarding the details off the SHEP can be found at www.sas.usace.ary.mil/SHEP.  

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