Charlie Harper: Georgia’s Ports to Get Additional Investment

Charlie Harper

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I detailed the ongoing expansion plans of the Port of Savannah after the State of the Port briefing there. For those unfamiliar with the actual operations in Savannah, I would encourage some time to understand how fast this port has grown. Savannah’s Garden City Terminal has gone from the relative minor leagues to the largest container port in the U.S. in less than 15 years. It’s amazing that we also export as much as we import from our ports.

Savannah is often our port that is in the limelight, given both the growth and the public attention given to the planned dredging of the Savannah River to accommodate the larger ships soon to be traveling through the Panama Canal. Georgia has another port, however, that is also a leader in it’s main type of Cargo – Ro/Ro. That’s short for “Roll on, Roll off”, or in plain speak, cars. Given the increase in automotive production in the Southeast, the port at Brunswick is also seeing growth in traffic and not just in imports. Brunswick exports vehicles made by Mercedes Benz at their Vance Alabama plant to other world markets.

One of the keys to Georgia having world leading transportation infrastructure such as Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and our Ports is the constant reinvestment of revenues. Most Georgians are unaware that their tax dollars do not directly fund the operations of these facilities. Rather, user fees are collected for operations with any “profits” used to fund infrastructure upgrades and expansion.

As such, the Georgia Ports Authority held the State of the Port address for Brunswick, and outlined a similar plan for our Southern port. Anticipating future capacity needs, the Georgia Ports Authority plans to triple the investment over the next decade than was made in the last decade in Brunswick. The Brunswick port will seek to leverage its success in Ro/Ro much as Savannah has become the leader in Container traffic. Both ports continue to serve multiple other purposes across a diverse customer/industry base as well.

The full details of the plans for Brunswick, as well as highlights of their operating performance, are contained in a GPA press release that follows.

Brunswick, Ga. – Oct. 20, 2015 – At the annual Brunswick State of the Port event Tuesday, Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz discussed an ambitious capital improvement plan for Brunswick terminals.

“In order to ensure efficient processing of cargo, our capacity must remain higher than current demand,” Foltz said. “To that end, we will be improving Brunswick facilities serving each of our major business sectors here, including automotive, breakbulk and bulk cargo.”

Foltz said that over the past decade, the GPA has spent $46.2 million on infrastructure upgrades at the Port of Brunswick. Over the next 10 years, the Authority plans to more than triple that investment, calling for another $152 million in improvements.

In one of those projects, the GPA intends to add a fourth berth to serve roll-on/roll-off cargo at Colonel’s Island Terminal. The GPA has submitted a permit request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the new berth, and hopes to begin construction in 2016.

Brunswick’s FY2015 automotive tonnage made the port the fastest growing major Ro/Ro terminal in the U.S., with a 10-year cumulative annual growth rate of 12.8 percent, compared to the national growth rate average for Ro/Ro ports from FY2005 to FY2015 of 4.5 percent.

“Served by eight ocean carriers, Colonel’s Island Terminal offers three modern Ro/Ro berths and four on-terminal auto processors, handling cargo for more than 60 auto and heavy machinery manufacturers,” said GPA Board Vice Chairman Jimmy Allgood. “With 696 acres in use and 641 acres permitted for expansion on Colonel’s Island, GPA can easily accommodate additional Ro/Ro business.”

The GPA is currently preparing 40 acres on the south side of Colonel’s Island to be pad ready for new port customers. The U.S. Southeast is the fastest growing consumer market for autos.

Fiscal Year 2016 projects include additional earthwork on the south side of Colonel’s Island, the next phase of the Anguilla Junction Rail Yard expansion, the first phase of a berth upgrade at Mayor’s Point, East River Terminal improvements and continued upgrades at the Colonel’s Island agribulk facility.

At Anguilla Junction, the GPA is funding the addition of 8,470 feet of track, a 28 percent increase, to provide a total of 39,039 feet of track. The rail yard is being improved to better handle export automobiles built in Alabama, Tennessee and Indiana.

“Another important infrastructure improvement is the maintenance dredging that must be funded by the federal government,” said GPA Chairman James Walters. “While the president has included $5.8 million in his budget proposal for FY2016, Congress has yet to pass an Energy and Water Appropriations Bill at this time. Securing sufficient funding for Brunswick harbor maintenance is our top priority right now.”

Also at the Brunswick State of the Port, Foltz reported on the results of Fiscal Year 2015, which ended June 30.

Total tons of cargo moved across GPA’s docks in Brunswick were virtually flat at just under 3.5 million tons during FY2015.

“Brunswick’s deepwater terminals turned in another solid year in all cargo sectors,” Foltz said. “Colonel’s Island, Mayor’s Point and East River provide efficient, cost-effective links to overseas markets for U.S. factory and farm production.”

Bulk cargo at all GPA terminals in Brunswick reached 1.9 million tons in FY2015, down 0.2 percent compared to FY2014.Biofuels, however, grew by 28 percent. Peanut pellets improved by 87 percent (for a total of 68,015 tons), while wood pellets were up by 23 percent (to 625,414 tons).Cargo at East River Terminal, which moves biofuels as well as minerals and other bulk materials, grew by 12.8 percent in FY2015.

Breakbulk cargo, which includes items such as rolls of paper and linerboard, reached 1.5 million tons, an increase of 0.1 percent.

In roll-on/roll-off cargo, the Port of Brunswick moved 680,414 cars, trucks and tractors in FY2015, a 0.9 percent improvement. Measured by tonnage, Brunswick is No. 2 in the nation for Ro/Ro, moving 1.3 million tons in Calendar Year 2014, the most recent period for trade reports issued by the U.S. Census Bureau. Only Baltimore moved more Ro/Ro cargo than Brunswick in 2014.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government;