Positioning for the Post Panamax: Port of Savannah

November 13, 2012 11 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

We've heard about JAXPORT's ambitious plans to grow into one of the East Coast's largest ports. However, while we find ways to implement our dreams, the competition isn't sitting still. Today, Metro Jacksonville takes a ride on the Savannah River, while learning a little more about what the future holds for the Port of Savannah.

About the Savannah River

The 301 mile Savannah River forms most of the border between the states of South Carolina and Georgia, stretching from the confluence of the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers to the Atlantic Ocean. The name "Savannah" comes from a group of Shawnee who migrated to region in the 1680s, who destroyed the Westo and occupied the former Westo lands at the Savannah River's head of navigation on the fall line, near present day Augusta.  The City of Savannah itself, was established in 1733 as a seaport by General James Edward Oglethorpe.  What became the thirteenth and final American colony, Georgia, was named after England's King George II. As of the 2010 Census, the City of Savannah was home to 136,268 residents.

18 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and operated by the Georgia Ports Authority, the Port of Savannah, home to the largest single ocean container terminal on the U.S. eastern seaboard, and the nation's fourth-busiest seaport.  Between 2000 and 2005, the Port of Savannah was the fastest-growing seaport in the country.  However, a ride along the Savannah River illustrates that this city is home to a diversified working waterfront that embraces tourism, recreation, and industry.

Sights and Scenes of Savannah's Urban Waterfront

Peeples Industries, Inc. operates a private terminal known as the East Terminal Company (ETC), east of downtown Savannah.  ECT is a fully integrated private dry bulk/liquid bulk non-union marine terminal served by CSX Transportation. Founded by Frank Peeples in 1964, Peeples operates terminals in Savannah, Morehead City, and Port Canaveral.  Their website indicates that plans for a Jacksonville terminal are currently under development.

The Savannah River Landing was a 54-acre development that died because of the recession. In 2007, the project's master plan included $800 million invested on two hotels, 600 condominiums, 110 townhomes, 17 waterfront mansions and 50 retail shops.

River Street

River Street anchors Savannah's popular historic district. River Street is home to a collection of 19th century cotton warehouses from Savannah's days as a major trans-Atlantic slave trade stop. After the invention of the cotton gin on a plantation outside of Savannah, the city grew to become a major rival of Charleston as a commercial port.

After World War I, the cotton industry declined and industrial uses gradually expanded east and west of the city's core.  As a result of preserving its historic building fabric, the city experienced a resurgence with more than 50 million tourist visiting during the 1990s.  Today, River Street's preserved cotton warehouses are home to boutique hotels, restaurants and specialty shops.   The former rail line is now utilized as a heritage streetcar route.

Factors Row and Factors Walk are located on a bluff just above the River Walk. Factors Row is a unique collection of red brick buildings, formerly a center of commerce for Savannah’s cotton factors, or brokers. Factors Row was also home to the original Cotton Exchange, where cotton factors, or brokers, set prices worldwide. Running from east to west above the river, these vast brick buildings rise two or three stores above the bluff and descend for three or more stories to the river front. The topside contained the offices of the cotton brokers and the building on the lower River Street side were used as warehouses. A series of iron and concrete walkways, known as Factors Walk, connected the buildings to the bluff. Ramps leading from Bay Street down the bluff to River Street are paved with cobblestones, brought as ballast and abandoned on the riverbanks by departing sailing ships.

The buildings on Bay Street have been renovated into antique shops, historic inns and office. The old cotton warehouses on the River Street level have been converted into pubs, restaurants and specialty shops popular with tourists and locals alike.

One of Savannah's favorite stories involves the life of Florence Martus (1868 - 1943), who was known well by Savannahians and sailors of the sea as the Waving Girl. The daughter of a sergeant stationed at Fort Pulaski, Florence later moved to a cottage along the river near the entrance of the harbor with her brother George, the Cockspur Island Lighthouse keeper.

As the story goes, life at the remote cottage was lonely for Florence whose closest companion was her devoted collie. At an early age, she developed a close affinity with the passing ships and welcomed each one with a wave of her handkerchief. Sailors began returning her greeting by waving back or with a blast of the ship's horn. Eventually Florence started greeting the ships arriving in the dark by waving a lantern.

Florence Martus continued her waving tradition for 44 years and it is estimated that she welcomed more than 50,000 ships during her lifetime. There is a lot of unsubstantiated speculation about Florence having fallen in love with a sailor who never returned to Savannah. The facts, however, about why she started and continued the waving tradition for so many years remain a mystery.

In any event, Florence Martus grew into a Savannah legend, known far and wide. On September 27, 1943, the SS Florence Martus, a Liberty ship, was christened in her honor.

The Waving Girl Statue by renowned sculptor Felix De Weldon, the sculptor of the United States Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial,) depicts Florence with her loyal collie.

The River Street Market

The Hyatt Regency Savannah is one of the largest hotels in the city with 351 rooms and 33,000 square feet of meeting space.

River Street's decomissioned Plant Riverside was constructed in 1912 and was the sole generator of Savannah's electricity through the 1950s.

Hutchinson Island

Hutchinson Island, which separates the City of Savannah from the Georgia-South Carolina border, is roughly seven miles long and one mile wide at its widest point.  Once heavily industrial, the island now includes the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa and the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.

Hutchinson Island also played a major role in the capture of Savannah during the American Civil War. After capturing Atlanta, Georgia, Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman turned his army East, toward the Atlantic Ocean, and arrived in Savannah in December 1864. Rather than destroying Savannah, Sherman elected to demand the city's surrender. Confederate Gen. William J. Hardee led his troops under the dark of night across the Savannah River on a makeshift pontoon bridge, across Hutchinson Island and into the South Carolina wilderness.

The Savannah International Trade and Convention Center opened in 2000 and features 100,000 square feet of exhibition space.  Future plans call for adding 40,000 square feet of space and 500 hotel rooms.

The evaluation of Savannah possibly becoming a cruise port is also underway.  With no bridge restricting the height of cruise ships, multiple sites in Savannah's urban core have been identified.  They include the former Savannah River Landing property, Georgia Power's former Plant Riverside, and Hutchinson Island's silos.

Completed in 1990, the new cable-stayed Talmadge Memorial Bridge spans the Savannah River between downtown Savannah, Georgia, and Hutchinson Island.  With a clearance of 185 feet, the structure is dedicated to Eugene Talmadge, who served as the Governor of Georgia in 1933-37 and 1941-43.  It replaced a 1953 era cantilever truss bridge that had become a danger to ships entering the Port of Savannah.

Port of Savannah

Served by two Class I rail providers via on-terminal rail facilities, the Port of Savannah is the Georgia Ports Authority's largest port and the fourth busiest port in the United States. 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.

- Garden City Terminal: Owned and operated by the GPA, the Garden City Terminal is a secured, dedicated container terminal, the largest of its kind on the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The 1,200-acre (5 km2) single-terminal facility features 9,693 feet (2,955 m) of continuous berthing and more than 1.3 million square feet (120,000 m2) of covered storage. The terminal is equipped with fifteen high-speed container cranes (4 super post-panamax and 11 post-panamax), as well as an extensive inventory of yard handling equipment.

- Ocean Terminal: Also owned and operated by the GPA, the Ocean Terminal is a secured, dedicated breakbulk facility specializing in the rapid and efficient handling of a vast array of forest and solid wood products, steel, RoRo (Roll-on / Roll-off), project shipments and heavy-lift cargoes. The 208-acre (0.8 km2) facility features 6,688 feet (2,039 m) of deepwater berthing, approximately 1.5 million square feet (140,000 m2) of covered storage and 96 acres (390,000 m2) of open, versatile storage.

- Target Corporation Facility: On September 21, 2005, Governor Sonny Perdue announced that Target Corporation has decided to build a two-million-square-foot import warehouse at the Savannah River International Trade Park, located four miles (6 km) from the Garden City Terminal at the Port of Savannah. The import warehouse opened on June 8, 2007, and handles overseas cargo and merchandise for Target Corporation's Southeast stores.

- IKEA Facility: On December 13, 2005, Governor Sonny Perdue and IKEA officials announced that IKEA, the world’s largest home furnishings retailer, has plans to build a 1,700,000-square-foot (160,000 m2) distribution center on 115 acres (0.5 km2) at the Savannah River International Trade Park. The first phase of the project consists of a 685,000-square-foot (63,600 m2) facility, which opened on June 27, 2007. The company also plans to expand the initial facility by approximately 975,000 square feet (90,600 m2) in the future.

- Heineken USA Facility: Heineken USA opened a distribution center in February 2008 that will handle 4,000 containers a year, moving from breweries in the Netherlands to distributors in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. The facility will handle 7 million cases of Heineken and Amstel brand beverages every year.

Axel Maersk heading into the Port of Savannah

Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics is a privately owned Norwegian/Swedish shipping company with 3,300 employees worldwide.

The Port of Savannah's Ocean Terminal.

Colonial Terminals, Inc. (left), International Paper Company (center).Martin Marietta Aggregate, Savannah Cement

The Port of Savannah's 1,200-acre Garden City Terminal is the largest container terminal on the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Beyond the Garden City Terminal lie the sites of Imperial Sugar Refinery, Atlantic Wood, and Kraft Electric Plant, Newport Terminal, and Weyerhaeuser paper mill.

More Competition For JAXPORT

The Future of Trade

Business continues to grow, and Garden City Terminal remains ahead of the curve. Anticipating the changing pace of trade not only in the Southeast and Midwest but in overseas markets, the Georgia Ports Authority will invest $1.2 billion in expansion projects over the next decade to accommodate the projected growth in global trade.

Over the next 10 years, Garden City Terminal is scheduled to add on average two high-speed super post-Panamax container cranes every 18 months for a total of 25 cranes, as well as 86 Rubber-Tired Gantries (RTG) as part of long-term developments for a full RTG conversion at the facility, further improving terminal efficiencies. And to accommodate the larger traffic necessary to keep up with demand, the Georgia Ports Authority is in the process of increasing the depth of the Savannah River Navigation Channel from 42 to 48 feet MLW (12.8 to 14.6 meters).

These expansion projects, together with numerous others identified under the GPA’s long-term strategic development plan, will increase throughput capacity from the current 2.62 million TEUs to 6 million TEUs in 2018.
Source: http://www.gaports.com/Default.aspx?tabid=269

Like JAXPORT, the Georgia Ports Authority desires to position the Port of Savannah to take advantage of the Panama Canal's expansion, which is estimated to reach completed in 2015.

Current plans call for the deeping of the Savannah River by up to six feet to accommodate super panamax vessels by 2016.  These plans have been bolstered when Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy issued the Record of Decision Oct. 26, finally approving the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP).

Now that the Record of Decision has been issued, federal construction funds can be appropriated to move the project forward.  The State of Georgia has already committed $181.1 million to the project, which is estimated to cost $652 million.

With Norfolk already able to accommodate the super post-Panamax ships, dredging in Miami starting in early 2013, and Savannah receiving final approval, what will happen to Jacksonville and JAXPORT's dreams?

Article by Ennis Davis