The Appalachian Regional Port north of Chatsworth has been open for a little less than three years and is already a target for expansion by the Georgia Ports Authority.
The Director of Economic and Industrial Development at Georgia Ports Authority, Stacy Watson, said the good news is that the state has enough property around the inland port in Murray County to easily accommodate growth.
Watson, who spoke to the Economic Development Committee of the Rome Floyd Chamber Friday, explained that growth of containerized shipments through the ports in Savannah and Brunswick has fueled the need for additional rail-served inland ports.
The state is making plans for another inland port in Hall County and exploring potential locations in west Georgia for a facility. The Kia plant in West Point will likely be the anchor user.
The Appalachian Regional Port has a direct rail connection to the port in Savannah and is currently served with shipments six days a week.
“We’re very close to capacity (at the Appalachian port),” Watson said. The facility was built to handle about 30,000 containers on an annual basis and the authority is looking to expand that by another 5,000 to 10,000 containers.
“This is with one shift, we can add a second shift, we can expand our tracks,” Watson said.
The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga is one of the largest customers for the Murray County facility.
The rail served inland port was designed in part to take some truck traffic off the highways. A current shortage of long-haul truck drivers has also been a factor in the increased use of the rail service, according to Watson.
“We’re doing our part to control our destiny and move more freight via rail,” Watson said. “We want to give our customers more options to move freight via rail versus 100% truck.”
Nonetheless, Watson told the Rome business group that 80% of the container traffic coming out of the port at Savannah is truck traffic.
Floyd County container trade through the port of Savannah amounted to more than 5,700 TEUs — 20-foot equivalent units — during Georgia’s fiscal year 2020 which ended June 30 of last year.
Pirelli Tire North American was the leader with more than 3,900 TEU’s. OTR Wheel Engineering was second with 261, AST Trading was number three with 233. Advanced Streel Technology and Branson Machinery rounded out the top five with 223 and 189 TEUs respectively.
Watson did not specify how much of the local shipments went by truck or train.
The GPA executive said the seemingly endless effort to deepen the harbor on the Savannah River is nearing completion.
The river channel is being deepened from 42-feet to 47-feet. That project is expected to be finished during the first quarter of 2022.
The deepening project is more important for export shipments than import commodities.
“An import box is about three times lighter than an export box,” Watson said. Much of Georgia’s exports are very dense freight, kaolin, frozen poultry, forestry products need plenty of water to get out to the ocean.
The next big issue on the coast may involve the Talmadge Bridge over the river.
At high tide, some of the new container ships will require a 230-feet clearance as opposed to the 185-feet that is generally available right now. The Georgia Ports Authority is looking at options which primarily involve either raising the existing bridge or building a completely new bridge.