Camden County Development Authority Executive Director David Keating said for $12 million, the state could grab a new economic-development engine. He hasn’t projected the potential, but the port of Savannah, for instance, has an economic impact of more than $27 billion and is credited with 300,000 direct and indirect jobs.
“It was incumbent upon us, being good Georgia citizens, to make sure the state was aware of this before it slips away,” he said.
In addition to Savannah’s port, the Georgia Ports Authority operates an ocean port in Brunswick and two inland ports on the Chattahoochee River at Columbus and Bainbridge. The ocean ports are among the fastest-growing in the country.
However, Florida has 14 ports, Keating said.
“We have tremendous opportunity to grow and capture some of that business,” he said.
The 720-acres site of the mill is on the St. Marys River, just 3 miles upstream from a shipping channel maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 48 feet deep to accommodate submarines stationed at the Kings Bay Naval Base and the port in Fernandina on the Florida side of the river. No bridges cross the river between the mill and the ocean.
Plus, it’s next to the St. Marys airport, has large-scale electric and natural gas service, and the CSX railroad is already on site. Interstates 95, 16 and 10 are all close.
The mill has a dock where it used to receive shipments of timber via barge, so it could begin service from shallow vessels as soon as buildings are constructed to replace the mill that has been demolished. Dredging would be required to service bigger, ocean-going ships.
Keating has already presented his idea to Gov. Nathan Deal and to the Ports Authority.
“I don’t think we have a position,” said James McCurry, director of administration at the Ports Authority.
Rep. Ron Stephens, chairman of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee likes the idea.
“I would love nothing more than to have three major ports,” said Stephens, R-Savannah.
No estimate has been made of the cost to construct the port or extend the channel to it, Keating said. Deal’s budget proposal doesn’t include money for buying and equipping another port, although it’s still under consideration by the House of Representatives.
Deal did include $47 million for deepening the channel on the Savannah River.