SAVANNAH, Ga. — Every member of Congress from Georgia signed a letter calling for a study to determine whether the busy shipping channel to the Port of Savannah needs to be deepened again after a $937 million harbor expansion was just completed in 2022.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock’s office released a copy Tuesday of the letter sent to top-ranking members of the House and Senate committees that would handle legislation to authorize a study.
The Georgia Ports Authority is pushing for Congress to consider another round of deepening Savannah’s shipping channel. The agency’s leaders say ever-growing classes of cargo ships need deeper water to reach the port with full loads at lower tides — even though less than two years has passed since the Army Corps of Engineers finished the last project that added 5 feet (1.5 meters) of depth to the waterway.
Savannah has the fourth-busiest U.S. seaport for cargo shipped in containers, giant metal boxes used to transport goods ranging from consumer electronics to frozen chickens. Savannah handled 4.9 million container units of imports and exports in the 2023 calendar year.
The letter signed by Georgia’s two Democratic senators and each of its House members — nine Republicans and five Democrats — argues that “we cannot sit back” as increasing percentages of ships arriving at Savannah have to wait for higher tides to reach the port.
“Such restrictions prevent the Port of Savannah from operating efficiently and at full capacity, significantly and unnecessarily limiting the nation’s waterborne commerce,” says the lawmakers’ letter.
Dated Jan. 26, the letter was sent to the chairs and ranking minority party members of the Senate Environment and Public Works and the House Transportation and Infrastructure committees.
Before another round of dredging could begin, Congress would have to authorize a feasibility study as part of a new version of the Water Resources Development Act, which deals with infrastructure projects nationwide.
In an interview last week, Georgia Ports Authority CEO Griff Lynch said it might be difficult to get a new study authorized before 2025.
“We want to see that project happen as quickly as possible,” Lynch said. “We’ve just started, so we have to be realistic. But, you know, we have got tremendous support.”
Getting Congress to authorize a study would be the first step in a long process.
Feasibility studies on the prior round of dredging began in 1997, and nearly two decades passed before it could begin. The job was finally completed in May 2022.
Lynch has said he believes the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees navigation projects in U.S. waterways, could work more efficiently this time and finish a new one within 10 years.