Georgia ports steam ahead with expansion projects

Staff Report
Published Nov. 28, 2012

ATLANTA — With a major hurdle cleared for deepening the Port of Savannah, expansion of an intermodal container facility completed, and a major economic development project under way, life at the Georgia Ports Authority appears to be steaming right along.

However, what excites Georgia leaders is the ports’ impact on jobs and commerce, and their importance to the economic future of the Southeast.

In fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, the Georgia Department of Economic Development reported the creation of 5,300 new port-related jobs and more than $1.8 billion in investments were announced statewide.

A Norfolk Southern locomotive breaks a ribbon during a Nov. 16 ceremony celebrating the grand opening of the Georgia Ports Authority James D. Mason Intermodal Container Transfer Facility in Savannah, Ga. (Photo/Georgia Ports Authority)

A Norfolk Southern locomotive breaks a ribbon during a Nov. 16 ceremony celebrating the grand opening of the Georgia Ports Authority James D. Mason Intermodal Container Transfer Facility in Savannah, Ga. (Photo/Georgia Ports Authority)

“These figures are more than numbers — they represent the growth of opportunity for our citizens,” Gov. Nathan Deal said at a recent State of the Port event hosted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. “Such strong job creation signals that our economy is on the path to recovery, and that Georgia’s business friendly climate has helped us stand out against our competition.”

Georgia’s deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support more than 352,000 jobs throughout the state annually and contribute $18.5 billion in income, $66.9 billion in revenue and $2.5 billion in state and local taxes to Georgia’s economy.

In late October, the Port of Savannah took a major step toward expansion and accommodating the bigger ships that will pass through the Panama Canal when the Assistant Secretary of the Army Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy signed the Record of Decision for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

The milestone completes the Army Corps of Engineers’ review of the project’s justification, and affirms that deepening the Savannah harbor to 47 feet is “economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and in the best interests of the nation,” the Ports Authority said.

“This is a historic moment for the state of Georgia, and a great day for the nation,” Deal said.

Georgia has already committed $181.1 million to the project, which is expected to cost $652 million.

Deal, though, has announced that as part of his fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, he will seek an additional $50 million in funding for the project.

If approved, the proposal will increase state funding for the deepening project to $231.1 million.

Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz
Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz
Corps of Engineers studies show that Post-Panamax vessels more efficiently served by a deeper harbor will lower shipping costs for containerized trade by $174 million a year over the next 50 years, for a total economic benefit of $8.7 billion during that span. Decreased costs per container will lower the bottom line for the more than 21,000 U.S. businesses shipping via the port.

“Ships such as the 9,200-TEU MSC Roma already call on Savannah via the Suez Canal,” said Steve Green, ports authority vice chairman. “The Panama expansion is expected to increase the number of these larger ships calling on the U.S. East Coast, so it is vital that our ports prepare for this new class of vessels.”

“The Corps’ decision is a crucial step for a project more than a decade in the making,” said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz. “It is a leap forward for America’s global competitiveness.” Expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to be completed and open for business in 2015.

One major economic development that likely will impact the port’s future is Caterpillar’s decision to build a $200 million plant near Athens to make small track-type tractors.

The 1 million square-foot facility is expected to employ 1,400 people, and Caterpillar estimates another 2,800 full-time jobs will be created among suppliers and other companies supporting the plant.

Caterpillar said the site was chosen, in part, because of its proximity to the ports of Savannah and Brunswick. The facility will serve customers in North and South America, said Steve Larson, who serves as logistics president and vice president of Caterpillar Inc.

“In addition, we plan to export partially assembled mini-excavator base units to a facility in Europe where final assembly will take place, improving delivery times for European customers,” Larson said.

In another development, the expanded Mason Intermodal Container Transfer Facility opened for business in mid-November. The $6.5 million, 6,000-foot rail yard extension will expand capacity, improve efficiencies and reduce costs for customers, Foltz said. It also will cut round-trip Norfolk Southern train movements to Atlanta by six hours.
“These improvements allow Norfolk Southern to offer an efficient, competitive route to the large inland port just up the road — Atlanta,” said Jeffrey Heller, NS group vice president of international intermodal services.
With this expansion, the Garden City Terminal’s two rail yards, serving Class I rail providers Norfolk Southern and CSX Corp., now feature 46,921 linear feet of track.

Previously, trains entered the Mason terminal from the east and exited toward the west. This required the trains to make a wide loop through Garden City. The expanded lines, working in conjunction with a junction installed by Norfolk Southern, will allow arriving trains to enter from the west.

The cars will be switched on terminal, with trains later exiting toward the west. The new operation will avoid the use of 21 at-grade rail crossings and shave six hours from the round-trip turn times to Atlanta.
“This infrastructure investment helps prepare the Port of Savannah for projected increases in the share of container volumes moved via rail,” said Robert Jepson, chairman of the ports authority. “Currently, 18% of Savannah’s container volume is moved by train.”

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