SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - UPDATE: The Savannah Ports reopened Friday morning.
As the Georgia Ports Authority tracked the progress of Hurricane Dorian earlier this week, the decision was made to cease container ship traffic on Tuesday in both Brunswick and Savannah.
If you stand there long enough, you’ll notice the absence of the huge container ships that usually create quite a spectacle for visitors on River Street.
The ships help bring in more than $100 billion in revenue to the state annually. Needless to say, any amount of time those shops have to wait offshore adds up in dollars. The United States Coast Guard, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, team up to make sure that after a weather event off the coast like Hurricane Dorian, the river and shipping channel for container ships is safe.
“What we are looking for in this context is really more, are there any obstructions in the channel? Did something fall into the waterway, the river? If the river is projected at a 42-foot depth, it may be blocking that, so we understand what type of ships we can bring in," said Norm Witt, USCG Commander, Captain of the Port. “It’s definitely something we want to get right the first time. Speed is important, but safety is absolutely critical.”
Right now, four vessels with the Army Corps of Engineers are running up and down the shipping channel, checking the bottom of the waterway for depth and any debris that may have been brought in by currents caused by Dorian.
“Early surveys are that we were very fortunate in this area with the storm impacts,” Witt said. “However, you could have a container that could potentially be in the channel; a sunken vessel, any number of things.”
While they are being thorough with the survey - and for good reason - crews realize time is of the essence.
“It’s critical because of the economic and fiscal benefits from the port that we get here in Savannah, not only locally, but regionally, and really, nationally,” said Col. Daniel Hibner, Savannah District Commander. “Every hour that goes by that we’re not running commerce through the port, it’s commerce that is lost.”
“You can see some additional shoaling happen, some sand moving into the channel,” Col. Hibner said. “Anything can blow into the river, and when you’re talking about a river and an inner harbor that’s about 20 miles and then an outer harbor and entrance channel that’s another 20 miles, that’s a whole bunch of area where anything can happen.”
Georgia’s deep water ports contribute a lot to the local economy: $25 billion in income, and they have direct impact on almost a half a million jobs statewide.