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Savannah Harbor Expansion is Now Underway

Savannah Harbor Expansion is Now Underway

This past July, President Obama signed a $12.3 billion bill for water projects, one of them being the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, our nation’s fourth busiest port, which is now authorized to begin. Because ships all over the world are becoming larger in response to an increasing demand for hauling more and more cargo, America’s ports need to be capable of accommodating them. These super-sized ships are expected to start traveling through the Panama Canal in 2016 and Savannah is one of the many East Coast ports frantically working to expand.In addition to meeting that need, “This bill will create jobs and strengthen our national infrastructure,” Obama said.

The next step after gaining Obama’s signature was to create an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who would oversee the expansion, and to outline how the $706 million needed to fund the project would be divided between Georgia and the US government. Georgia taxpayers have already contributed $266 million to the work and Washington is expected to cough up about $400 million.

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project has been 16 years in the making and was first authorized by Congress in 1999. It required numerous studies and funding pledges before it could be started, but now with government approval, they can begin making headway. “The harbor deepening is recognized across Georgia as the state’s most important infrastructure project in terms of future economic development,” state ports authority board Chairman Robert Jepson said. “Because Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly had the foresight to set aside $266 million toward construction, we will be able to start the project this year using state funds.”

The digging officially started ten days into September when the 300-foot dredge boat The Alaska and a spider barge from Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company’s started working on the channel under the agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Georgia Ports Authority. They will deepen the channel by five feet along the Savannah River, beginning at the Savannah port across from Tybee Island, Georgia and ending about halfway down the route into the Atlantic Ocean. They will receive $134.5 million to deepen 17 miles of the channel, a part of the 39 total miles to be expanded.

Sand and sediment are broken up from the waterway’s floor by a rotating cutting tool on the dredging barge, which works like a drill bit, though it has a much large diameter of 8 feet. A giant hose then sucks up the mess and spits it onto “floating dump trucks” hauled by tugboats. It is then taken to predetermined locations in the ocean and dumped.

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Project Manager Armand Riehl took part in a new conference on Monday, September 14th on Tybee Island amid the backdrop of the dredging barge working five miles offshore. “It’s a lot like a highway construction job,” said Riehl. “It’s just happening underwater.” Two crews are now working 12 hours shifts around the clock, but the work creeps along at only about the length of a football field each day. Each shift manages to accumulate enough sand to completely fill about 1,400 dump trucks. They have signed a contract with a deadline of July 18, 2018 to finish their work. “We’re excited that we’re off the starting blocks,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. “We’ll really be prepared to celebrate at the finish line.”

The entire expansion is estimated to be finished sometime in 2021 at the earliest, but is heavily dependant upon when the federal government forks over their 60% of the costs. According to Jason O’Kane, the Army Corps project manager for the harbor expansion, if Washington doesn’t come through by mid-2016, some future contracts may have to be put on hold. “To stay on a six-year construction plan, we would need more funding in the later years,” O’Kane said. “If you don’t secure funding now, you can’t plan to award those contracts.”

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