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In honor of Earth Day, GPA restores wetlands

POSTED: April 24, 2014 10:11 p.m.

The Georgia Ports Authority celebrated Earth Day by unveiling nearly 14 acres of recently-created wetlands. The two-and-a-half-year, $3.7 million project treats 100 million gallons of water annually and creates natural wildlife habitat in the heart of the nation’s fourth- busiest container terminal.

“Our mission is to grow our business in environmentally-responsible ways,” said GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz. “This wetlands project is just one way we can reduce our environmental footprint while we continue to efficiently move cargo.”

The new wetlands form an aquatic system composed of native vegetation including bald cypress, cord grass and soft rush. The area, located between the Mason Intermodal Container Transfer Facility and the Garden City container terminal, supports diverse wildlife including fish, amphibians and birds such as anhingas, great blue herons and belted kingfishers.

The wetlands harness natural filtering processes to help protect water quality in the Savannah River, while also providing flood control.

“We planted these wetlands with native plants, each supporting a specific aspect of stormwater filtration,” said GPA Environmental Sustainability Manager Natalie Dawn. “And, in turn, those plants attract diverse native wildlife.”

Dawn said the GPA’s created wetlands set a higher standard for stormwater treatment.

Find details about GPA’s sustainability efforts at GaPorts.com/Sustainability.

“The typical method in industrial environments is to build a series of concrete culverts that quickly shuttle untreated stormwater into the river,” Dawn said. “That is not nearly as effective as utilizing natural wetlands and doesn’t provide animal habitat like these wetlands do.”

Foltz explained that the wetlands are part of a wider culture of environmental stewardship at the GPA. He detailed voluntary investments to reduce emissions, including electrifying ship-to-shore cranes and refrigerated container racks. These elements of GPA’s sustainability program help avoid the use of more than 5.8 million gallons of diesel annually.

The current inventory of 84 refrigerated container racks power more than 2,000 containers at a time. Supporting poultry and other exports, each rack avoids the use of 54,000 gallons of diesel annually for a total 4.5 million gallons every year.

Foltz also talked about the environmental advantage of the GPA’s four new super post-Panamax cranes, which run entirely on electricity. The newest cranes have integrated generators to capture power while lowering boxes. In this way, the cranes power themselves for 18 minutes of each operating hour. With the four new cranes, Garden City has 25 – the most of any terminal on the East Coast. The added cranes will allow the GPA to more efficiently serve larger vessels calling on the port.

The GPA is also set to expand its program to electrify rubber-tired gantry cranes, incorporating new machines and retrofitting others. GPA’s electrified RTGs, first of its kind technology in North America, reduce diesel consumption by up to 95 percent per crane.

GPA Board Chairman Robert Jepson noted that while the GPA has tripled its container traffic over the past 10 years, it has also cut in half its emissions per container moved. “This phenomenal business growth calls for proactive environmental strategies, and the Georgia Ports Authority will remain at the forefront of sustainable practices in the maritime industry,” Jepson said.

Find details about GPA’s sustainability efforts at GaPorts.com/Sustainability.

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