At the monthly Progress through People luncheon, hosted by Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by P.C. Simonton and Associates and Liberty County Development Authority, Georgia Port Authority’s General Manager of Economic and Industrial Development Stacy Watson presented the state of the ports for those in attendance.
Watson began with a brief description of the two more well-known terminals, the Garden City terminal and Ocean terminal, located under the Talmadge Bridge in Savannah. The GC terminal, otherwise known as the port of Savannah, brings in 85 percent of the revenue for GPA.
“We’ve gone from number 14 or 15 port in the United States,” Watson said. “As of right now, we’re number two on the east coast and number four in the United States.”
GPA has purchased a piece of land across the river from Ocean terminal, which they will soon begin developing, Watson said. The land is 200 acres that will be used for containers, he continued.
In calendar year 2018, GPA did about 4.3 million TEUs. TEUs stand for Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit, Watson said. Shipping containers come in three different lengths, 20-feet, 40-feet, and 45-feet.
“One twenty-foot container is one TEU,” Watson said. “So a forty-foot container would be two TEUs. That’s the way ports measure, in TEU’s.” The port has seen nearly a 7.5 percent growth, according to Watson. Savannah has become such a target port, that when other ports lose freight, Savannah gains freight.
Savannah remains the single largest U.S. container port, with the longest continuous dock of any other port in the U.S. The GC container facility is over 1,200 acres, and is nowhere near capacity, he continued.
“Right now, we’re doing 4.3 million TEUs at the Garden City terminal,” Watson said. “We’re going to take this capacity up to 8 million TEUs. We could almost double the throughput of this terminal without buying another acre of land. We’ve got room to build and room to grow at this facility.”
An important task to achieve the 8 million TEU mark, Watson said, is the completion of the Savannah Harbor update. Currently, Savannah is the shallowest major container port in the world. At low tide, Savannah River measures only 42 feet deep, he said. With the 7.5 to 8-foot tide, the big ships can come in and out on high tide, but is a major speedbump.
“We’re taking the river down to 47 feet, and we’re about 50 percent complete with that project,” Watson said. “The 301 million is secured for state funding, and it’s about a 1 billion dollar project. We have a completion date of late 2021. It’s not over.”
Federal funding for fiscal year 2019 stands at $101 million, according to Watson. Each year, GPA approaches the federal government for appropriations to fund the harbor deepening. The estimated federal funding remaining, he continued, is about $205 million.
“The big reason for the support from the federal government, is that benefit to cost ratio,” Watson said. “For every one dollar that is spent on harbor deepening, there is a 7.3 dollar return. That’s a savings of about $282 million per year for the shippers. There is a huge payoff and dividend that will be realized after the harbor deepening.”
Another issue being considered, Watson continued, is the air draft space beneath the Talmadge Bridge. Currently, the large ships that come to port contain about 14,000 TEUs, but shippers are changing their methods and creating bigger ships to hold larger capacities and consolidate their fleets, he said.
Right now, the Talmadge Bridge has the smallest air draft, standing at 196-feet from the water to the bottom of the bridge. The NY/NJ port has an air draft of 215-feet and bigger, while Norfolk, Virginia, a harbor port, is unrestricted. Charleston comes in at 201-feet, Watson added, making Savannah the smallest.
According to the presentation, the GC terminal will be maximized with a new bridge. GPA is currently beginning an impact study, in partnership with Georgia Department of Transportation for keeping and replacing the current bridge.
A new initiative, called Network Georgia, builds a network of inland ports around the state, Watson said. Right now, GPA has a port in northwest Georgia, and there are plans to create at least two more ports, one in Gainesville and one in or near West Point, Georgia.
“Capital investment over the past 10 years has averaged about $1 billion,” he added. “We are not part of the state budget, we operate for a profit. No shareholders, no owners. The profits go back to operating revenue and into capital expenditure plans. Predicted capital investment over the next 10 years is $2.5 billion.”
The GC terminal expansion will be funded with the $2.5 billion. Some updates include: adding an additional 12 cranes to the terminal, totaling 42 cranes—which range from $10 to $12 million dollars apiece; refrigerated racks for containers; more container slots; expanding the gates; facilities relocation; and expanding their mega-rail system.
The GC terminal is expected to have completed expansion and able to accommodate eight million TEUs by 2028.