Home to the fourth busiest seaport in the country, the city of Savannah’s deepwater port is an integral part of Georgia’s economy. All told, the Port of Savannah handles 8.5 percent of all containerized cargo volume and averages 38 ocean carrier service calls per week, more than any other port on the East Coast port.
For each of the past 17 years, it’s also been the fastest growing deepwater port in the country. Since 2000, the Port of Savannah has seen an average annual increase of 16.5% in the amount of container traffic it processes each year. Add that up and you get a 280% increase in container traffic.
In order to ensure the Port of Savannah will be able to accommodate future increases in shipping traffic, in 2012 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began study on an expansion project designed to deepen the 18.5-mile outer harbor to 49 feet and 39 miles of Savannah River channel to 47 feet in order to accommodate larger ships coming through the expanded Panama Canal.
An essential component of this study was the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This review process is designed to identify any significant impacts a project may have on the environment, economy, or public health before construction. Mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), this review process also requires project sponsors to identify steps that may be taken to mitigate those impacts.
Under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ original plans, salt water would have been pushed upstream, threatening the vitality of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge’s tidal freshwater wetlands and further endangering the shortnose sturgeon. Studies also showed the Corps’ plans would negatively impact local drinking water resources.
Thanks to the NEPA review process, these adverse effects were identified and Corps of Engineers’ final plans for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) included funding for wetlands protection, restoration efforts benefiting the Savannah River, established a water quality monitoring program for the Savannah River, and ensured long-term protections for the endangered shortnose sturgeon.
The Corps of Engineers is also in the process of installed two dissolved oxygen injection systems upstream on Plant McIntosh and downstream of Hutchinson Island to ensure that oxygen levels remain at pre-deepening levels and will not adversely impact fish or plant life.
Construction on SHEP began promptly in 2015 and is expected to be complete in 2019 at a cost of $973 million. The Army Corps of Engineers completed outer harbor dredging – marking the midpoint of the expansion project – in February 2018.
Once the project is complete, the deepening of the harbor will result in a net benefit of $282 million in transportation savings for shippers and consumers per year. According to the Corps’ benefit-to-cost ratio, each dollar spent on construction will yield $7.30 in net benefits to the nation’s economy.
 “Final Environmental Impact Statement for Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.” S. Army Corps of Engineers, July 2012. Available at:
 “Record of Decision for Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.” S. Army Corps of Engineers. October 26, 2012. Available at: http://www.sas.usace.army.mil/Portals/61/docs/SHEP/Reports/ROD%20Signed.pdf
 “Tide gate removed as Savannah harbor deepening moves forward.” Savannah Morning News. January 9, 2018. Available at:
 “Deal: Savannah Harbor Expansion Project on schedule, reaches crucial milestone.” Office of the Governor of Georgia. February 28, 2018. Available at: