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Georgia ports on track for record fiscal year after busy spring, boost from snarled West Coast

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SAVANNAH, Georgia — The top executive over Georgia's seaports in Savannah and Brunswick said Monday he expects another record-breaking fiscal year following a busy spring in which East Coast ports benefited from a labor dispute on the West Coast.

The Georgia Ports Authority handled 2.84 million tons of total cargo in April, a month that saw a whopping 335,900 cargo containers move through the Port of Savannah — an increase of nearly 26 percent from April 2014. That's the most tonnage and container volume Georgia ports have ever seen in a single month, and March was almost as busy.

Curtis Foltz, the port authority's executive director, said he's "pretty comfortable" that the fiscal year ending June 30 will exceed milestones reached last year when annual tonnage hit a record 29 million tons and Savannah handled 3.1 million containers of imports and exports.

"A new record year for us, on top of an unbelievable year last year, it's pretty spectacular," Foltz said following the authority's monthly board meeting Monday.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2014 file photo, The container ship Zim Istanbul makes it's way up the Savannah River past historic River Street in Savannah, Ga. The top executive over Georgia's seaports in Savannah and Brunswick said Monday he expects another record-breaking fiscal year following a busy spring in which East Coast ports benefited from a labor dispute on the West Coast. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2014 file photo, The container ship Zim Istanbul makes it's way up the Savannah River past historic River Street in Savannah, Ga. The top executive over Georgia's seaports in Savannah and Brunswick said Monday he expects another record-breaking fiscal year following a busy spring in which East Coast ports benefited from a labor dispute on the West Coast. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

Georgia ports, along with others on the East Coast, got much busier this year when tense contract negotiations for West Coast dockworkers nearly closed the ports of Los Angles and Long Beach, California, as well as more than two dozen others. The dispute caused shippers to temporarily divert shipments of retail goods to the East Coast.

Continuing economic improvement in the U.S. was already fueling growth at Georgia's ports, Foltz said, and it's hard to tell exactly how much extra was gained from woes on the West Coast. But he said he expects Savannah will finish the fiscal year handling up to 500,000 more cargo containers, used to ship goods from retail electronics to frozen chickens, than in the previous year. As much as half of that increase will likely be cargo diverted from the West Coast, Foltz said.

And though business has largely returned to normal at West Coast ports, Georgia officials expect to hang onto a portion of the influx caused by the labor dispute.

"I think we've earned some new business," Foltz said. "I don't think there's any question we'll keep some of it."

Savannah has the fourth-busiest container port in the U.S. and is second only to the combined Port of New York and New Jersey on the East Coast.

Bulk goods such as iron and steel imports at Savannah were strong in April along with exports through the Port of Brunswick of wood pellets used to fuel overseas power plants. Brunswick also set a new monthly record for automobile shipments, handling 77,574 units in April.

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