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Savannah outer harbor deepening enters next phase

The final phase of the outer harbor portion of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, commonly known as SHEP, is officially underway as of Dec. 1, representatives with the Savannah District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer announced this week.

The project, which first began in 2015, will deepen the harbor from its current 42 feet to 47 feet, will allow large ships that are now coming through the Panama Canal. Some of these neo-Panamax ships are coming to Savannah already, but they are not loaded to capacity.

“The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, currently 35 percent complete, will allow today’s larger vessels to take on heavier loads and transit the river with greater scheduling flexibility. As Congress continues work on FY18 spending bills and the Administration prepares its FY19 budget request, we ask leaders to remember that SHEP is a project of national significance with one of the best cost-benefit ratios in the nation,” saidGriff Lynch, Georgia Ports Authority executive director.

Up to five hopper dredges have been committed to the effort, each working 24-hour shifts to complete the deepening of the channel and the seven-mile seaward extension of the SHEP during the current environmental window which will close in the spring.

Hopper dredges can only be used during the winter and early spring in the Savannah harbor area due to environmental considerations. Experience shows fewer encounters with certain sea turtles and endangered sturgeon during these months. In addition, the dredging contractor hired by the Corps of Engineers at times employs trawlers to move in front of the dredges to capture and relocate aquatic animals to a safer area away from the dredges. During the capture and release effort, specialists tag and register each relocated turtle or fish for future tracking.

“This major push by the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company will complete the deepening from Fort Pulaski and ending nearly 20 miles into the Atlantic Ocean to 47 feet,” Spencer Davis, Project Manager for the SHEP, said.

“This is the first step to allow the larger, neo-Panamax container ships to enter the harbor with fewer tidal restrictions.”

Later, as the Corps completes more environmental mitigation and testing, they will deepen the inner harbor from Fort Pulaski to the Garden City port to 47 feet. Corps officials estimate the inner harbor deepening will be complete in 2022.

The SHEP is projected to bring $282 million in net benefits each year to the nation, mostly in transportation cost savings. The nation will see $7.30 of benefits for every $1 spent on construction, according to the Corps’ latest economic analysis.

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