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Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 1:01pm

Some of the World’s Largest Shipping Cranes Have a New Home

On Wednesday evening, the U.S. House is expected to vote on a bill Georgia officials have wanted for years.

If passed, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act would authorize federal spending for water-related infrastructure projects nationwide.

One of those projects includes deepening the Savannah harbor.

Port officials are eager for the bill to become law.

The Port of Savannah is already home to 27 cranes. Lined up along the Savannah River for two miles, they stick out of the marshy landscape like behemoths.

On Wednesday, port officials announced that four more cranes would be up and running.

These are some of the biggest cranes used for ports in the world, and they are part of an effort to serve larger ships. The cranes arrived in June, and they’re designed to stack shipping containers higher. Bigger cranes mean more containers per ship, and that means more efficient shipping.

The cranes look like skyscrapers from the dock below.

Their elevators go up about 140 feet. Taking the elevator up is equivalent to climbing 14 stories. The crane’s arm extends more than 200 feet over the Savannah River.

Inside the cabin, crane operations manager Steve Collum explains the finer points of moving a container from the ship to a truck waiting on the dock.

The containers swing on thick cables and can weigh as much as 65 tons. Crane operators move the massive containers with two joysticks.

"It's got a technique," Collum says. "It's just like a golf swing.”

Super-sized ships are expected to sail through the Panama Canal once the canal is expanded in two-years.

Georgia Ports Authority Chief Operating Officer Griff Lynch says the cranes are part of the planning for the larger ships.

"It all goes together. It's one complete system. If you don’t have the cranes to support it, the cranes will fail."

The cranes cost about $12 million each. The bill up for a vote in the U.S. House authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spend $662 million on the Savannah harbor deepening project.

Even though the state has provided smaller amounts of money to fund the project, it's the big money from Congress that Ports Authority Director Curtis Foltz has been worrying about for years. The project has dragged on, moving from one planning stage to another.

"I'll sleep a lot a better at night, I can tell you that," Foltz says. "But none of us are going to sleep as well as we should until this project's done."

After House approval, the bill goes to a House-Senate conference committee.

Foltz says he expects the bill to move on to smooth final passage in both chambers.

"We hope that happens before the end of the year because it's all about infrastructure," Foltz says. "And in reality, that's not a partisan issue today. With all the partisanship that's going on in Washington, we don't expect it with this bill."

Georgia officials want the harbor deepened to serve larger ships expected to sail through the Panama Canal in two years.

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