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GPA approves budget, including Jasper port backing
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The Georgia Ports Authority has approved its fiscal year 2017 budget, including $116 million for capital infrastructure improvements. The funds will cover 15 projects, including $42.4 million for the purchase of new ship-to-shore and rubber tired gantry cranes. The remaining funds will go to upgrade existing assets, property development and other infrastructure.

Currently featuring more ship-to-shore cranes than any other U.S. terminal, at 22, Savannah's Garden City Terminal will add four cranes this year. Another set of four will arrive in the late spring of 2018, bringing the total number to 30 cranes.

The board also announced that in consultation with Gov. Nathan Deal and the Office of Planning and Budget, it is committed to fully funding its three-year, $7.5 million commitment to the Jasper Ocean Terminal Joint Project Office (JPO). The funds will cover Georgia's share of the JPO operating costs, as well as the services of a third-party contractor hired to prepare an environmental impact statement for the Jasper Ocean Terminal.

"The announcement to fund three consecutive years of JPO expenses shows Georgia's commitment to bringing this project forward as soon as possible," said GPA Chairman James Allgood, who was chosen Monday to succeed James Walters. "For the South Carolina communities adjacent to the Jasper Ocean Terminal, its development will have a massive positive impact. It has the potential to create thousands of jobs, bring in millions in tax revenue for local governments, and ensure the region's future capacity for decades to come."

As planned, the new terminal will feature 10 berths (phased in to meet rising demand), a turning basin, road and rail access corridors, and supporting infrastructure on 1,500 acres in Jasper County, S.C. This new investment will increase the region's capacity by 7 million 20-foot equivalent container units.

In other business, Executive Director Curtis Foltz reported to the board that container volumes dropped by 11.3 percent for the month of April, which saw a total of 298,040 TEUs. For the first 10 months of the fiscal year, beginning July 1, GPA has moved a total of 3 million TEUs, an increase of 0.3 percent compared to the same period last year.

"Although container volumes were down in April, the monthly and more importantly year-to-date numbers — primarily driven by increased import market share — continue to exceed our forecast," Foltz said. "We anticipate similar year-on-year monthly variances through July due to prior year artificially inflated volumes."

In his report to the board, Foltz noted that Savannah's April 2016 performance constituted an 11.6 percent increase over the volume of 266,930 TEUs marked in April 2014 — the year before cargo diversions related to West Coast labor issues.

Griff Lynch, incoming executive director effective July 1, thanked Foltz for his 12 years of service to the Georgia Ports Authority, and recognized this would be Foltz' last board meeting.

"Under Curtis' leadership, the GPA has reached major milestones, with the start of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, important on-terminal infrastructure improvements and a 32 percent expansion in business - moving from 2.8 million TEUs in 2010 to more than 3.7 million TEUs last calendar year," Lynch said. "I look forward to working with Chairman Allgood and the rest of the GPA board to continue that string of success."

Allgood, who served as vice chairman for two years, will assume his new responsibilities July 1.

"I'm excited to have this new opportunity to serve the state," Allgood said. "With our harbor deepening under way, the infrastructure investments we're making on terminal, and the improvements to road and rail connections we're building in Georgia, there is a wealth of opportunity ahead of us."

"With more than 40 years experience as a business leader, Jimmy Allgood provides the insight and leadership skills necessary to continue GPA's progress toward a prosperous future," said Walters.