By Walter Jones –
ATLANTA — Work could begin as early as next month on the initial phases of the project to deepen the shipping channel of the Savannah River, a state transportation official said Wednesday.
Divers hired to raise a Confederate ironclad sunk 150 years ago could be on site in a few weeks, almost on the anniversary of the intentional sinking to prevent seizure from Union forces. The CSS Savannah sits on the river bottom in the way of the dredging, requiring its removal by marine archeologists as a critical step in clearing the way for the machines that will dig the channel deeper to accommodate larger freighters at low tide.
Dredging in a different part of the channel could begin soon, too.
Companies submitted bids Nov. 12 for a contract to dredge from the entrance to the river, 7 miles beyond land. Details of those bids have not been released as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer reviews them for qualifications and procedures as well as costs.
The contract for the three-year job is likely to be awarded in January, according to Claude R. Jackson, waterways program manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“This is literally one of the first contracts we can sign because there is no mitigation,” he told members of the State Transportation Board’s Intermodal Committee.
Various types of environmental mitigation must be begun, and in some cases completed, before inland dredging can commence. Nearly half the cost of the $706 million project is for mitigating the impact on the environment.
For example, installation of giant jets on Hutchinson Island to pump oxygen into the river water must be operational before dredging of the inner harbor can begin. Proposals from companies seeking that job are due Dec. 15, with construction slated to begin in the spring.
Jackson offered some caution as he distributed to the committee a timeline for the multiple components of the project, including those that must be done before other phases can begin.
“Don’t be surprised if some of these schedules change,” he said.
Committee Chairwoman Dana Lemon expressed amazement at the complexity of the project.
“This is indeed overwhelming,” she said.
The Transportation Department is involved in the project because it owns land for containing the dredged-up mud as well as parcels that will be used to create salt marshes to mitigate the loss of existing marshes. And the department has initiated several road, bridge and intersection improvements in recent years preparing for the increased truck traffic expected to result from larger ships calling on the Savannah port.
Also at the meeting, the committee heard a presentation by Miguel Southwell, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in which members peppered him with questions about how the giant facility will be impacted by the river deepening. Southwell said cargo shipped by ocean is rarely a candidate for air freight because of weight and cost, but the airport is seeking to increase its freight business just as the Georgia Ports Authority has.
Hartsfield is revising procedures and planning new facilities to streamline the handling of cargo. And he is eager to attract more refrigerated freight, such as seafood and cut flowers which now fly into Miami’s airport and are often trucked passed Hartsfield to New York.
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