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Greener than money?
GPA embraces eco-friendliness in State of the Port address
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Georgia's ports in Savannah and Brunswick continue to be one of the state's largest drivers of the economy, contributing $15.5 billion in income and $2.6 billion in state and local tax revenue in fiscal year 2010.

Despite the lingering effects of the recession, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has overseen an increase in imports and exports that far outpaces the national average.

"The Port of Savannah experienced a remarkable recovery in FY2010," said Curtis Foltz, the GPA's Executive Director. "The 9.7 percent increase in TEUs (twenty foot equivalent units) for the year allowed the GPA to return to near record levels reached in FY2008."

Last week's "State of the Port" address, delivered by Foltz to a crowd of nearly 1,200 people (the largest attendance in the event's history) at the Trade and Convention Center was a unique look at just how successful the port has been, even during these difficult economic times.

"Georgia's deepwater ports are one of the brightest spots in the Georgia economy right now," said Alec L. Poitevint, the GPA's Chairman of the Board.

Savannah's port is still the 4th largest container port in the country, but the opening of new routes over the past year has drastically increased the reach of ships that stop.

Beyond the expansion of its geographical reach (there are shipping lines from here to just about everywhere except Antarctica and Greenland), one of the more notable aspects of the port's growth has been an increased focus on environmental stewardship, long a source of local contention.

Thanks to several improvements at the port, including electrification of ship cranes, updated refrigeration containment racks and a diesel additive program, among others, the port has reduced its diesel consumption by 4.5 million gallons per year. Diesel consumption overall is half of what it was 10 years ago, despite the fact that the number of containers coming through the port has nearly doubled over that same period.

What might be even more impressive is that the decisions to be more environmentally responsible came from port executives, and weren't part of improving compliance with any state or federal environmental regulations.

"It's more than just greenwashing," said Robert Morris, Senior Director of External Affairs for the GPA.

Reducing diesel wasn't the only way the port conserved resources. A staggering 94 percent of construction debris created by more than $88 million in infrastructure improvements was either recycled or re-used. The port recycled 128 tons of scrap metal last year, and about 30 tons of paper.

Although the economic and environmental improvements surely inspired confidence in attendees, the point that couldn't be stressed enough by Foltz and others was the necessity of harbor deepening. The deepening has been at the top of the GPA's priorities since 1996, but with the date of the Panama expansion approaching, the situation is becoming dire.

"The Savannah Harbor must be prepared for the demands of global shipping after the Panama Canal Expansion is completed in 2014," said Foltz. "It is imperative that the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is approved and remains on schedule."

Among other interesting tidbits from the "State of the Port" address was the ratio of imports to exports. Although the U.S still counts its trade deficit in the tens of billions, Savannah's port has a higher level of exports than imports. The top three exports are wood pulp, paper and food.

Helping keep food in the top three is more than 1,000 loads a week of frozen poultry that depart from the port. cs