View Mobile Site

Take a sneak peek at The Times' new website

August 17th, 2017 08:11 a.m.

Take a sneak peek at The Times' new website

August 17th, 2017 08:10 a.m.


Ga. lawmaker to ask president to deepen Savannah’s waters

POSTED: April 4, 2013 12:42 a.m.

Acknowledging it’s a bad time to seek money from Washington, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said Wednesday he’s pushing for federal funding to deepen the shipping channel to the Port of Savannah by year-end.

The Georgia Republican said during a visit to the bustling seaport that the harbor deepening is his top issue to discuss with President Barack Obama next week when the president joins Isakson and other GOP senators for dinner.

They’ll be dining the same day Obama plans to release his proposed budget, which Georgia port officials hope will include money to start construction on the $652 million project.

“We’re still working diligently in Washington to close the deal,” Isakson said. “And we’re very, very close.”

Steve Green, vice chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority board, said $231 million the state has already appropriated for its share of the cost could be tapped to cover the federal share of the first phase of dredging if no money comes from Washington.

But Congress must raise the funding limit for the Army Corps of Engineers to start construction. It authorized the project in 1999, but the cost has risen from $450 million to $652 million.

Isakson spokeswoman Lauren Culbertson said language for the higher authorization was included in the Water Resources Development Act that passed out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works two weeks ago.

A water development bill gives the corps funding for the projects it has approved, but Congress hasn’t passed one since 2007. Some members of Congress view the bills as earmarks.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who recently created a caucus to reform the corps, would support broad regional projects, but would not support individual earmarks, said Jason O’Rouke, Collins’ legislative aide for transportation and infrastructure.

Savannah and other East Coast ports are scrambling to deepen their shipping channels to make room for supersized cargo ships expected to begin arriving after the Panama Canal finishes a major expansion.

That work is expected to be finished in 2015.

Hall County businesses exported $33.2 million of products in fiscal year 2012, including poultry, auto parts and tractors.

The dredging is expected to draw the extra-large cargo ships to Savannah’s port, increasing exports and that’s good for Gainesville, also known as “Poultry Capital of the World,” said Mike Giles, president of the Georgia Poultry Federation.

“More poultry goes out of the Port of Savannah than any port in the nation,” Giles said. “Exports are very important to the Georgia poultry industry as it is to the poultry industry nationwide.”

The Georgia Ports Authority had been working since the 1990s to deepen more than 30 miles of the Savannah River between its docks and the Atlantic Ocean.

The federal government, which spent $41 million studying the project, gave final approval last October to deepen the harbor from 42 to 47 feet.

Now the major hurdle is money, though a federal lawsuit filed in South Carolina by environmental groups opposed to the project remains unresolved.

The federal government is on the hook for 70 percent of the cost. Getting any sizable funding from Washington at a time when lawmakers are focused on painful budget cuts won’t be easy.

“You’re talking about a lot of money,” Isakson said. “And we’re having a lot of problems in Washington with money.”

The corps said last fall it hoped to begin dredging by this summer. Asked when realistically the corps might get funding to start that work, Isakson declined to give a specific timetable but said “this is the year that we have to get the job done.”

Obama has called for expediting improvements at U.S. ports to help spur the economy and has included a line item for the Savannah project in past budgets.

Last year the president’s budget included $2.8 million for the Savannah harbor project — enough to keep it on Washington’s radar but far less than the $105 million Georgia officials wanted to put toward the start of construction.

Even if the president gives funding to the project in his budget, Billy Birdwell, the corps’ Savannah District spokesman, said the budget limit issue must be resolved.

Green said port officials are still pushing to get the work started before the end of this year.

“That’s the most we can hope for,” Green said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.




Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...