Georgia ports see big growth in 1st half of fiscal year, in part thanks to West Coast problems

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SAVANNAH, Georgia — Labor problems on the West Coast helped send record-breaking cargo volumes to Georgia seaports in the first half of the 2015 fiscal year, the Georgia Ports Authority reported Monday.

Ports in Savannah and Brunswick handled a combined 15.3 million tons of cargo from July 1 to December 31, an increase of nearly 7 percent compared to the same period a year ago. At Savannah, the nation's fourth busiest container port, workers moved 1.75 million containers of imports and exports, an increase of more than 13 percent.

The news comes after Georgia's ports had their busiest year ever in fiscal 2014, during which the Port of Savannah for the first time handled more than 3 million cargo containers in a single year. Curtis Foltz, the port authority's executive director, predicted that growth may slow somewhat in the next six months, but not enough to keep Georgia's ports from having another peak year.

"As strong as the year has started, and I may be overly confident, but I'm fairly comfortable saying this will be another record year for the authority," Foltz said of the fiscal year that ends June 30.

A recovering U.S. economy gets credit for some of the growth Savannah and Brunswick have experienced since last summer, Foltz said. But he also credited protracted labor negotiations at ports on the West Coast, where increased congestion on the docks has caused shippers to divert more retail imports from Asia to ports on the East Coast.

West Coast woes helped make December, normally a slow month, the Georgia ports' second-busiest month on record. Overall tonnage shot up nearly 13 percent compared to December 2013, while container traffic increased by 18 percent.

Foltz said he expects growth to taper off soon as the West Coast contract disputes are resolved.

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