Savannah Harbor Expansion

The Issue

The “Savannah Harbor Expansion Project” (SHEP) poses a number of dangers to the Savannah River’s fragile ecosystem, but it is also widely viewed as important to the state's economy.

Where We Stand

Dredging activities in the Savannah River, and the saltwater intrusion upriver that dredging causes, have been priority concerns of the Georgia Conservancy for more than 30 years.

This latest dredging project proposed for the Savannah River, the SHEP, was authorized by Congress in August 1999 with $230 million in federal funding.  That authorization calls for the Savannah Harbor to be deepened from 42 feet to as much as 48 feet along the 36-mile stretch of the river from its mouth at the Atlantic to the port terminal near downtown Savannah. The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) sponsored the SHEP because it would allow for the Port of Savannah to accommodate larger cargo vessels known as post-Panamax.  An increase in post-Panamax traffic is forecasted for the Eastern Seaboard once the construction of a new third lane is completed in the Panama Canal system by 2014.

However, the Congressional authorization was contingent upon the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the draft EIS to the public in December 2010.  In response to the draft, the Georgia Conservancy issued a comment letter in January 2011 expressing concerns about the mitigation plan and the threat of additional losses of freshwater tidal wetlands in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.  These losses would come as a result of an increase in saltwater intrusion caused by the further deepening of the river.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Final EIS was released to the public in April of this year.  The report proposes a 47-foot depth based on the optimal benefit-to-cost scenario from projected economic and environmental impacts.  On June 5, the Georgia Conservancy submitted to the Corps its comments regarding the Final EIS. Our review of the Final EIS and Final General Re-evaluation Report (GRR) has raised serious concerns about the environmental damage to the Savannah River ecosystem that will result from the SHEP.

Our main concerns:

  • A further decrease in dissolved oxygen in the Savannah River
  • The loss of wetlands and marsh from increased intrusion of salt water
  • The destruction of spawning habitat for native fish (striped bass, Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon)
  • The introduction of invasive species through the ballasts of the larger post-Panamax ships
  • The potential for increased fatal ship strikes on North Atlantic right whales


  • We are concerned that the mitigation measures do not go far enough.
  • A project of this scope should have a commensurate level of resources available to redress all of the created uncertainty.

It is the Georgia Conservancy’s duty to comment on the environmental impacts of the SHEP. We recognize that it is the duty of our public officials to balance the economic and environmental interests to determine whether the project will go forward.

We offered these comments for the Corps' consideration.

Read the Georgia Conservancy’s Letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers