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Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 1:02pm

Georgia Ports Set Record

Georgia's Ports set an export record for 2009.

But it's 2014 that still weighs on ports leaders' minds because a critical harbor deepening project is delayed.

2014 is when larger ships will sail the Panama Canal.

But Savannah probably won't be ready for them until 2015.

The head of the Georgia Ports Authority said as much earlier this month.

So, Thursday's annual State of the Ports address was partly a celebration of increased port traffic, but also a warning that serious money is at stake if Georgia falls further behind.

"I can't overemphasize the need to get this done and get this done now," says Curtis Foltz, the Executive Director of the Georgia Ports Authority. "Our customers have told us that the ships will continue to come here, but if there isn't significant progress, if we're not moving forward, then customers will start looking for other alternatives."

Foltz said, Georgia's ports created 9,000 new jobs statewide last year despite the sputtering economy.

He said, that economic engine is at risk if deepening doesn't get underway soon.

The project still has several bureaucratic hurdles.

These include a final report on the project's environmental and economic impacts that's now in its final stages at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Then the heads of four federal agencies have to sign off on the project.

Foltz said earlier this month that he now believes that the Savannah project probably will be finished about a half year behind the Panama Canal project.

Overall, port traffic was up 9.7% in the fiscal year that ended in June.

Exports set a record of 1.1 million TEU's, or Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, a measurement of cargo in the shipping industry.