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Port official believes feds will chip in to deepen harbor
In 2012, Hall shipped $620M in cargo
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A Georgia Ports Authority official said Thursday in Gainesville that he is “very confident” that President Barack Obama’s budget next month will reflect needed funding to kick the Savannah Harbor deepening project into gear.

James “Jamie” C. McCurry Jr., the authority’s senior director of administration and government affairs, said the hope is the project — first proposed in 1996 — can get started this year and wrap up in three to four years.

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

The authority has received $231 million from the state, or $30 million shy of the state’s total share in the project, McCurry said, addressing the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors at the Gainesville Civic Center.

Funding from the Obama administration would back up his promise to include the project in July as one of the nation’s “We Can’t Wait” infrastructure improvement projects.

“The proposed project would enable the Port of Savannah to accommodate larger cargo vessels and other ships, ultimately facilitating more efficient movement of goods,” the administration stated in a July press release.

“At the end of the day, the net annual benefit in terms of transportation savings costs to the nation is $174 million a year for the next 50 years,” McCurry said. “... When you have something that’s going to return to you $5.50 for every $1 that you put into it, it’s a pretty darn good investment.”

The project, which is being coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, traces back to the 1990s, when an environmental impact study was completed and “produced a recommended plan that Congress authorized in 1999,” McCurry said.

However, because the project was placed on a fast track and “done a different way, some federal agencies weren’t comfortable with it, so we basically had to redo it,” he said.

That process took a decade-plus to complete, leading to “this past year, getting to basically the same result we had back in 1999,” McCurry said.

Showing the audience a picture of the largest and second-largest container ships on the East Coast passing each other in the harbor, he said, “We are able to handle ships like that today.”

He added: “It’s just critical that we are able to handle them better in the future or we will stunt our growth and we will not be able to continue to be what we are in terms of an economic engine for the Southeast.”

Last year, Hall County shipped cargo worth $620 million total, McCurry said.

That included more than 3,000 20-foot cargo containers for imports and 1,000 for exports.

“This is definitely an important area for us and cargo that goes to the port,” he said.