WASHINGTON: After having to close for five days during Hurricane Matthew due primarily to damage to navigational aids — the Georgia Ports Authority bounced back from Hurricane Irma almost immediately, bringing in its first ship Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the storm passed. On Wednesday, the port worked eight ships, including the CMA CGM John Adams, a 14,000-plus TEU sister ship to the Theodore Roosevelt, the largest ship ever to call on the U.S. East Coast. The Roosevelt came in to Garden City Terminal earlier this month. “We were incredibly fortunate with Irma in that water came right up to the docks but didn’t overflow,” GPA executive director Griff Lynch said. “And the work we did on the front end of the storm really paid off – we didn’t have a single container blown over.” The next few days are expected to be especially busy as ships that couldn’t come into port last weekend join regularly scheduled vessels in the queue. This weekend alone will be a shipwatchers’ delight, with 14 vessels due in Saturday and 12 on Sunday.
Some 100 miles to our south, the Coast Guard reopened the Port of Brunswick Wednesday afternoon, urging mariners to transit with caution due to the possibility that aids to navigation discrepancies or other hazards may still exist. GPA spokesman Robert Morris said Thursday the port was fully operational, with three car carriers working on Colonel’s Island. A contract solicitation for an environmental mitigation piece of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on July 6 was rescinded Aug. 30, when the South Carolina Savannah River Maritime Commission and the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control failed to approve a requested modification in time for work to begin this fall. The move could delay a contract award for as much as a year. At issue was a request for changes in a plan to reduce impacts of increased salinity in upper harbor tidal creeks, said Corps spokesman Russell Wicke. “The changes are positive ones that will increase freshwater flows, directing more freshwater into the Back River area on the South Carolina side of the estuary and protecting freshwater wetlands in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge from saltwater intrusion,” Wicke said.
South Carolina DHEC requested additional modeling to show how the changes would impact dissolved oxygen levels in the estuary, but the Maritime Commission did not agree to the additional modeling in time for the Corps to award the contract this fall. The Corps has developed a powerful dissolved oxygen system to address those issues, and the requested changes had already been signed off on by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, both the Georgia and South Carolina departments of Natural Resources as well as the Historic Preservation Offices in both states. While the good news is that — if the issue can be resolved within a year — it isn’t likely to impact the overall completion of the deepening project, one has to wonder if the Savannah River Maritime Commission’s long history of throwing roadblocks in SHEP’s path isn’t the real mitigating factor here.
Several weeks ago, I reported that GPA employees, ILA members and others in the maritime community were collecting supplies for those hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. The plan was to fill two containers and put them on a barge to the Port of Houston. Instead, the group filled four containers to the brims, then determined it would be faster to truck the containers to Houston than to send them by barge. Two trucking companies stepped up, offering their services free of charge. TCW took the containers from Savannah to New Orleans, while Canal Cartage took the second leg from New Orleans to Houston — another example that Savannah’s maritime community is a true family, Morris said.