Georgia Ports Authority OKs $205 Million for Savannah Expansion

A containership operated by Cosco moves toward the Port of Savannah's Garden City Terminal in May 2017.
A containership operated by Cosco moves toward the Port of Savannah's Garden City Terminal in May 2017. (J. Scott Trubey/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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The board of the Georgia Ports Authority voted March 29 to spend $205 million to expand the Savannah facility, adding to $100 million authorized several months ago.

The expansion is needed because the port has seen a surge in cargo shipments, which is expected to continue, said authority chairman Will McKnight.

The Port of Savannah last month broke its February record for volume of cargo handled and is on track to break the March record as well, he said.

After a dip in shipping during the first few months of the pandemic, “Georgia’s container trade has experienced unprecedented growth over the past six months,” McKnight said.

The impact of the recent Suez Canal blockage will slow shipments in the coming weeks, but the impact will not be severe or long lasting, port officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One-third of the freight coming to Georgia comes via the Suez, said Griff Lynch, executive director of the authority.

Georgia’s seaports, among the largest on the East Coast, are crucial to the state’s economy, fueling hundreds of thousands of Georgia jobs.

Like the nation as a whole, Georgia has long imported vastly more than it has exported. The pandemic — which chilled consumer business at restaurants, bars and even grocery stores — spurred a flood of orders for goods from overseas.

Officials did not expect to see the current volume of cargo for several years. The growth prompted them to speed up plans to expand Savannah’s capacity. The expansion project will include berths for loading and unloading more ships. And eight additional cranes will be purchased to handle cargo.

The project, to be completed by the summer of 2023, will increase the port’s capacity by 20%, officials said. Funding for the work will come from business revenue at the ports, as well as bonds that the authority will issue.

Last month, the Port of Savannah, responsible for 90% of the authority’s business, moved 390,804 container units — 7.2% more cargo than a year ago, Lynch said.

“In terms of cargo volumes, we’ve added the equivalent of an extra month of trade since September,” he said.

The 1,400 employees at the ports have been stressed. “We are hiring as quickly as we can to get this under control. Mostly, we need heavy equipment operators,” Lynch said.

Those jobs pay $80,000 to $130,000 a year, he said.

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