Gov. Sonny Perdue and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina announced a joint venture last week that will result in the construction of a new port on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River on property owned by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
A lengthy legal battle had been waged over Jasper County, South Carolina’s attempt to condemn the property and build a new port.
Georgia had fought those efforts because GDOT is under contract with the Corps of Engineers to provide a site for the spoil from river dredging to keep the channel clear for cargo traffic. The GDOT owns virtually the entire S.C. border of the Savannah River to the sea, and uses it to deposit the silt which adds layer after layer of soil. Actually, this process will continue through the permit process for the new port, building up the site every year as a layer of spoil is added and drains out the sea water.
Some might question whether Georgia needs to cooperate with building a new port when Georgia’s port is doing so well and growing.
There are a number of reasons that building an additional port is in the best long-term interests of the state of Georgia:
1. Sooner or later, there would probably be a new port built on the S.C. side of the Savannah River. For Georgia to be a partner gives our state input into the process and helps to insure whatever is built is compatible with the existing port.
2. There are a number of factors which data from the U.S. Department of Transportation predicts shipping growth potential for the Southeast that can only be described as incredible. If world trade continues at the present pace, ports all over the East Coast will see huge increases in traffic.
U. S. DOT estimates port traffic in 2020 at as much as six times the present traffic for both Savannah and Charleston ports.
3. Presently, the Panama Canal is restricted in the size of container ships that can pass through its locks. That traffic now goes through the Suez Canal and approaches the East Coast by the northern part closer to ports of the Northeast.
When the Panama Canal starts handling the super sized cargo ships in 2014 (less than seven years away), all of this increased traffic will reach the southeastern coast first and provides an even greater opportunity for growth for the Savannah/Charleston Ports. Incidentally, Jacksonville just announced a $100 million expansion of its port so this opportunity is seen by other Southeastern states as well.
The other factor affecting port traffic is infrastructure — to move the containers once they are on land. Movement to the Midwest is a prime concern of shippers. Presently, traffic comes from both coasts and is shipped by rail and truck to the Midwest areas like St. Louis and Chicago.
Interestingly, cargo coming into New York does not reach Chicago as fast as the same cargo does coming through Southeastern ports like Savannah and Charleston due to less clogged rail lines and a good highway structure to the Midwest. Additionally, cargo from the west coast is restricted by the rail systems over the Rocky Mountains. And there is little likelihood of new highways or rails from the west coast or the Northeast.
Again, the Southeast is clearly poised to gain more of the growth over the next 10-20 years than any other area. Port traffic brings warehouse and distribution demand. These facilities are low energy users and clean operations requiring little water resources.
Problems to be resolved include:
1. Additional DOT spoil site for the contract with the Corps of Engineers. While these may be off-shore, these sites are more expensive.
2. The construction of rail and highways to the new port site must be built, a distance of approximately 10 miles.
3. The permit process and satisfying environment concerns is a major hurdle. Some of the study associated with the harbor deepening is applicable but still the main challenge is the permit process. Brig Gen. Joseph Schroedel, the Commander of the South Atlantic Division of the Corps of Engineers has been extremely helpful and has facilitated the involvement of all players including EPA and other stakeholders in the development at the front-end of the project.
The joint venture between Georgia and South Carolina will be managed by a small consortium including the management and board membership of both the Savannah and Charleston Ports.
At some point in the future, an Interstate Compact will have to be created and adopted by each state legislature and by Congress as well.
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