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Savannah Harbor Deepening Sets Precedent; Four Dredges Working at Once

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The dredge Chatry works to deepen the Savannah River. Inner harbor deepening at the Port of Savannah is slated for completion in late 2021. The inner harbor deepening is the final portion of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

By The Maritime Executive 06-01-2020 04:30:41

SAVANNAH, Ga: The deepening of the Savannah harbor has set a new precedent with four dredges working simultaneously, the Army Corps of Engineers announced.

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) includes two dredges keeping the channel at its current authorized depth of 42 feet followed by two dredges taking the channel to its new depth of 47 feet. The dredges work without disrupting the flow of commercial traffic to or from the Port of Savannah's Garden City Terminal and other facilities along the river.

The entire deepening project is approximately 62 percent complete. The inner harbor constitutes the final portion. The outer harbor, a roughly 20-mile channel extending into the Atlantic Ocean, has already been deepened to 49 feet at low tide.

"The Savannah District continues to manage the intensely complicated task of coordinating dredge actions and placement of dredged material to ensure safety, compliance with contract requirements and timeliness to reach our goal of completing this major deepening in January 2022," Col. Daniel H. Hibner, commander of the Corps' Savannah District said. "This effort ensures the harbor will improve the ability of Savannah to meet the demands of today and tomorrow."

With finely tuned coordination, each dredge and its associated support vessels must be at the right place at the right time. The two smaller maintenance dredges remove built up shoaling and sediment, then move on followed by the larger deepening dredges. All vessels must move aside whenever commercial vessels enter their area. In addition, workers must move pipelines leading from the dredges to the dredge material disposal areas. After commercial traffic passes, everything must return to continue the routine. All dredges work 24 hours a day, every day.

"The cooperation we receive from GPA, our dredging contractors, the harbor pilots, the Coast Guard and others demonstrates the dedication this community has for deepening the Savannah harbor," Hibner said.

The federal government and the state of Georgia share the cost of the deepening. Georgia's Department of Transportation and the Georgia Ports Authority serve as the state sponsors for the project.

"Georgia's ports are among our greatest economic development assets and play a critical role in creating jobs and investment opportunities across the state," said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. "Through the Port of Savannah, we feed the world with Georgia Grown products, and support manufacturing and retail activity across the country. The improvements we are making today through the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will help ensure Georgia's economic vitality for decades to come."

GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said the progress surging ahead on SHEP is good news for port users.

"With the challenges our economy is facing, the savings a deeper harbor will mean for our customers can't come soon enough," Lynch said. "We're excited to see so much work getting done as the Corps of Engineers coordinates these efforts.

The project will allow today's larger container vessels to enter and leave the harbor during a longer tide window and with more cargo aboard. According to a Corps of Engineers feasibility study, lower container slot costs on the larger vessels accommodated by the deeper harbor will save U.S. producers and retailers $282 million per year in transportation expenses. The study found that every dollar spent on construction will yield $7.30 in benefits.

Because the project will have such a large positive effect on the nation's economy, SHEP has received significant federal support. In the federal budget for Fiscal Year 2020, $130.3 million is devoted to SHEP, while another $28.6 million in maintenance and operations funding is going toward Savannah River maintenance dredging. 

"I would like to thank Sen. David Perdue, Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Congressman Buddy Carter for their work to ensure sufficient funding to improve this vital federal waterway," said GPA Board Chairman Will McKnight. "I would also like to thank the many staff members across the Corps of Engineers, and particularly at the Savannah District. Their efforts are recognized and appreciated by Savannah's entire maritime community." 

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