The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday that acquiring wetlands and taking other protective steps can compensate for the environmental costs of dredging the Port of Savannah to accommodate larger ships in the nation's fourth-busiest container port.
Port officials want to dredge the Savannah River by six feet, giving it a 48-foot depth, so the port can accommodate the larger cargo freighters expected to pass through the Panama Canal once it's deepened in 2014. Unless Savannah's port can accommodate those ships bound for the East Coast, authorities fear they will dock elsewhere.
Ships carrying petroleum, wood, cement, gypsum and textiles moving through Savannah must now wait until high tide to transit the port, said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. He said the shipping industry is moving toward larger ships that can transport more cargo more efficiently.
"It's definitely a step in the right direction," Foltz said. "We've got to be able to accommodate these larger ships, and the depth is absolutely necessary to making that happen."
Plans to dredge the harbor have been in the works since 1996. Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue credits the port with creating jobs and calls dredging the 36-mile channel the most important infrastructure project in Georgia.