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House could vote today on water bill

Already approved by Senate, bill would move Savannah Harbor deepening ahead

POSTED: October 22, 2013 11:27 p.m.

The U.S. House of Representatives could vote today on a water authorization bill that, among other things, would move the Savannah Harbor deepening project closer to reality.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act calls for final feasibility studies on the project, which Georgia officials have been pushing for years.

“Here in Gainesville-Hall County, it’s important to us,” said Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “It (affects) poultry, automotive suppliers and I don’t know what all that goes through the port.”

Speaking to the chamber in January, James “Jamie” C. McCurry Jr., the Georgia Ports Authority’s senior director of administration and government affairs, said Hall County shipped cargo worth $620 million in 2012, including more than 3,000 20-foot cargo containers for imports and 1,000 for exports.

The $652 million project calls for deepening the port from 42 feet, its current depth at low tide, to 47 feet.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, plans to vote for the bill, which was approved by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Sept. 19, said his spokeswoman, Kelley McNabb.

“As it is right now, (the legislation) is a win for Georgia in terms of the port of Savannah and the general sense of fairness vis-à-vis the water wars (between Georgia, Florida and Alabama),” she said.

The Senate approved its version of the bill, the Water Resources Development Act, in May.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions had backed language in the original bill that would have limited how much water metro Atlanta and North Georgia communities could take from two federal reservoirs without getting congressional approval.

Georgia Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss succeeded in getting that restriction removed from the final version of the bill.

Collins was among 12 of 14 Georgia House members who later sent a letter to Transportation and Infrastructure committee members Reps. Bill Shuster and Nick J. Rahall II, asking them to oppose “the inclusion of any similar language (in the House version) that could be viewed as taking sides in this interstate dispute.”

Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, is the committee’s chairman, and Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat, is its ranking member.

The letter “from the delegation had a great effect,” McNabb said, adding the Alabama language wasn’t in the House version.

However, several Georgia delegation members “are watching (late) amendments closely.”

Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been embroiled in a 20-year legal dispute over water usage in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. Much of the debate has centered over Lake Lanier, which serves as a primary drinking water source for metro Atlanta.

The dispute has heated up since the committee’s approval of the bill.

Florida filed a legal action Oct. 1 in the U.S. Supreme Court alleging Georgia’s “overconsumption” of water in the ACF harmed Apalachicola Bay, battering its seafood industry.

“The only ‘unmitigated consumption’ going on around here is Florida’s waste of our tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit,” said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, at the time.

The House bill also “contains no earmarks and establishes a process for project approval with congressional oversight,” according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Counties.

“This language differs from ... bill that passed the Senate (that) gives the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) sole authority over what projects should move forward.”


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