Hinesville Rotary Club members heard a presentation Tuesday on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project by Col. Jeffrey M. Hall, commander, Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
During their weekly luncheon at the La Quinta Inn, Rotarians heard bottom-line estimates of SHEP, creating 11,000 jobs nationally, including 3,700 jobs in Georgia and South Carolina and 2,400 jobs locally. Estimated total cost for the project is $652 million, Hall said.
“There’s a ton of misinformation out there in the media about this project,” Hall began, saying he believes a deeper harbor will benefit the district, region and nation. “We estimate the project’s annual net benefit to the nation is about $174 million.”
He said the main source of misinformation surrounds the project’s environmental impact. Hall said the Corps’ environmental mitigation plans include avoiding and reducing impacts and mitigating/compensating for unavoidable impacts.
After nearly 13 years of research, study and collaboration with state and federal agencies, he said the Corps’ final report concludes the environmental impacts of deepening Savannah Harbor to 47 feet can be mitigated to an acceptable level. He said 45 percent of the total costs are environmental-mitigation features.
Hall admitted the project would reduce the winter habitat for the endangered shortnose sturgeon by 7 percent, and it would reduce spawning habitat for striped bass by 10 percent; however, it would increase habitat for Southern flounder by 57 percent.
There would be a loss of 16 acres in brackish marsh, but the project would convert 223 acres of freshwater marsh and 740 acres of saltwater marsh in brackish marsh, he said. These conversions would be mitigated further with the acquisition and preservation of nearly 2,500 acres of additional wetlands for the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.
Hall said the National Economic Development plan for a 47-foot harbor has received the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and the Department of Commerce.
“Where our forefathers put Savannah port is no accident,” he said, explaining the harbor sits primarily in freshwater, avoiding wood-boring worms that thrive in saltwater. “The existing harbor is 42 feet deep and 32.7 miles long. The NED plan is probably the most collaborative project we’ve ever had to work with.”
Hall called the $42 million study a “model of collaboration.”
The project would deepen the harbor as well as extend the harbor entrance channel across the ocean bar 7.3 miles, he said. The project also includes construction of ship meeting areas at Long Island and Oglethorpe Ranges, widening the Kings Island turning basin to accommodate larger ships, and widening the channel at three other bends in the river, he said.
The Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia rests at the bottom of the river near Old Fort Jackson. Hall said SHEP includes recovering the historic vessel before dredging.
Hall concluded by calling Savannah’s port unique because more than two-thirds of the shipping containers that use it are exporting goods, rather than importing goods. Deepening the harbor allows for larger and, therefore, fewer ships to move the same amount of goods at lower transportation costs, he said.
If approved and funded, Hall said SHEP construction would take at least four years to complete, followed by 10 years of environmental monitoring.
Explaining that the Army Corps of Engineers projects include military construction and a civil works mission, Hall said the Savannah District has a continuous mission to keep the Savannah River navigable. That includes a never-ending fight to remove shoaling, which is the build-up of silt that flows southward and deposits on the river bottom.