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Georgia to Continue Savannah Port Expansion with Third Container Terminal

Savannah port
Permitting process is beginning for a third container terminal in Savannah (GPA file photo)

Published Oct 5, 2023 2:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

The George Ports Authority is beginning the permitting process for a planned third Savannah container terminal, which would increase the port’s capacity by a third by 2030. It is the next step in an ongoing expansion plan that seeks to keep ahead of anticipated growth in the port’s volumes.

A permitting application for the new terminal was submitted a month ago to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which reviewed a copy of the 64-page document, the goal of the GPA is to maintain a 20 percent cushion in capacity to provide efficient operations and flexibility to manage seasonal spikes in volume.

The expansion of the capabilities for the Port of Savannah is an ongoing process that included the deepening of Savannah harbor to 47 feet at mean low water ensuring that it can handle containerships with a capacity exceeding 16,000 TEU. The dredging began in 2015 and was completed early in 2022. The water is as deep as 54 feet at high tide, meaning that vessels can load up to an additional 1,000 boxes at the port.

Significant upgrades were undertaken at Savannah’s Garden City Terminal which has been the primary container facility. The berths were renovated and in August the port took delivery on new, larger cranes. The cranes and improved dock increased the Garden City Terminal’s berth productivity by 25 percent or 1.5 million TEUs annually and are part of the GPA’s $1.9 billion infrastructure improvement plan to keep pace with future supply chain needs.

The next phase of the expansion began this year with efforts to relocate the Ro-Ro and breakbulk operations to neighboring Brunswick, Georgia. The plan calls for consolidating those operations outside of Savannah and renovating the Ocean Terminal to become the second container facility in the port. Scheduled to be completed in 2025, it will add approximately 2 million TEU to the port’s capacity or a total of 9.5 million TEU.

The GPA first revealed publicly its plans for the third terminal in 2019. At the time, they expected to add a 200-acre facility by 2025. Based on the strong growth the port experienced in the past few years, handling 5.9 million TEU in 2022, the plan for the third terminal has been revised. During the surge in shipping volumes, Savannah experienced a large backlog and even now is experiencing a mini-backlog with nearly 20 containerships waiting offshore. In 2022, the backlog at times topped 30 ships.

The application reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls for a new facility known as the Hutchinson Terminal that would add 3 million TEU capacity to Savannah. Construction would begin in 2026 and when the terminal opens in 2030 the port would reach a capacity of 12.5 million TEU.

The newspaper reports that three alternative sites were explored but were too small or too close to environmentally sensitive areas. The GPA plans to locate the new terminal on land it has been acquiring near the Savannah Convention Center on Hutchison Island in the middle of the Savannah River near the Talmadge Bridge.

The new terminal would have three berths for large containerships. The GPA believes the site is well suited with good road access. In addition, they plan to work with the railroad CSX seeking to restore a decommissioned line to Hutchison Island. 

The third terminal would maintain the port’s flexibility on capacity cushion as volumes grow to an anticipated 10 million TEU by 2035. The GPA forecasts longer term, by 2050, Savannah could reach 20 million TEU annually.

The long-term growth plan envisions a fourth terminal, known as the Jasper Ocean Terminal. The concept envisions a joint project between the GPA and the South Carolina Ports Authority to locate a new terminal downriver, closer to the ocean but in South Carolina.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution anticipates that the Georgia Ports Authority will publicly discuss the plans for the terminal on Hutchison Island on October 12 as part of the scheduled State of the Port presentation.