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Obama signs bill for Ga. port expansion
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SAVANNAH — The expansion of the Savannah harbor is authorized to begin and state officials must now form an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine how costs of the anticipated $706 million project will be split with the federal government, Georgia Ports Authority officials said Tuesday.

The plan can move forward now that President Barack Obama has signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. The expansion is expected to make room for larger cargo ships at Savannah, which has the fourth-busiest container port in the U.S.

Hall County manufacturers have said the port deepening is important for their business.

Companies such as Kubota and many poultry producers ship their products through that port.

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

“The harbor deepening is recognized across Georgia as the state’s most important infrastructure project in terms of future economic development,” port authority board Chairman Robert Jepson said in a statement.

Executive Director Curtis Foltz called the development the result of a collaboration that involved several state and federal lawmakers.

“We’ve waited for many years to get to this day, and Gov. Deal appreciates the dedication that our congressional delegation gave to this issue,” Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson said in a statement.

Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, who is campaigning against Deal for governor, called the port and its expansion hugely important to Georgia residents and businesses.

“Our congressional representatives did great work breaking through the partisan gridlock in Washington to hold the federal government accountable to its commitment to Georgia,” he said in a statement.

The expansion had been stalled by an outdated spending cap that had to be eliminated by Congress.

In a joint statement, Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, and Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, said port expansion is crucial for the region and will generate billions in revenue. U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, said he urges the Army Corps of Engineers to sign the agreement and begin construction immediately.