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Savannah Dredging Completed as Next Step in Port Expansion

dredging completed at Savannah
Dredging was completed as the next step in the expansion program for the Port of Savannah (GPA)

Published Mar 10, 2022 3:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

Dredging at the Port of Savannah, which is the third busiest port in the United States, and the fastest-growing port in the nation for the past 10 years, has been completed as part of a long-term port expansion program. The US Army Corps of Engineers announced the completion of the project, which port officials noted was more than 20 years in the making and will be a key contributor to their growth plans.

The USACE lead the project, which cost $973 million and lasted six and a half years. They partnered with the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Georgia Ports Authority and multiple contractors and agencies, with Weeks Marine completing the final portion of the operation. The project involved deepening a 40-mile stretch of the Savannah River between the port and the Atlantic Ocean. The waterway was deepened by five feet giving the channel and harbor a depth of 47 feet, which according to port officials means larger and heavier vessels will be able to enter the port and will be able to navigate without having to wait for tides. The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project was designed to permit 16,000+ TEU vessels to transit the river with greater scheduling flexibility.

The project included recovering remnants of the CSS Georgia, a civil war ironclad that rested some 40 feet below the river's surface, as well as other Revolutionary and Civil War artifacts. USCAE also noted that they incorporated environmental mitigation features into the project due to the proximity of the channel to sensitive estuarine resources. This included installing a dissolved oxygen system, re-routing freshwater flow in the upper harbor, and preserving 2,245 acres of freshwater wetlands for the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.

Last month officials from the Georgia Ports Authority unveiled plans to expand the port’s container capacity by 60 percent. For 2021, they reported a 20 percent growth in TEU noting that the GPA moved a record 5.6 million TEUs. The dredging is part of an enhancement plan that will bring the Port of Savannah’s annual capacity from six million TEU to nine and a half million TEUs by 2025.

“Higher demand for our services is the reason we have expedited major expansions at the Port of Savannah,” said GPA Board Chairman Joel Wooten during the 2022 state of the port briefing in February. “Georgia’s growing manufacturing, distribution, and retail sectors will mean additional cargo through the Port of Savannah, driving the need for increased container handling capacity.”

Projects now underway will add 1.7 million TEUs of annual capacity in four months. Seeking to deal with the surge in volumes, the GPA added TEU capacity with six pop-up container yards as well as expanded space at the Garden City Terminal. By June 2022, they will make room for another 820,000 TEUs as well as additional upriver capacity. Separately, the Garden City Terminal West project will add up to one million TEUs in phases by 2024. Savannah is also increasing the size of its Berth 1, increasing on-dock capacity by 25 percent. In the spring of 2023, the expanded berth will allow Savannah to simultaneously serve four 16,000-TEU vessels as well as three additional ships. The renovations will add an estimated 1.5 million TEUs per year of berth capacity.