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Savannah harbor deepening gets big boost in federal dollars
Port of Savannah
Cranes at the Port of Savannah load and unload containers Jan. 30, 2018, in Savannah. - photo by Associated Press

SAVANNAH — The federal government said Monday, June 11, it will spend an additional $34.7 million this year on deepening the shipping channel to Savannah’s busy seaport, giving the project a substantial boost at a critical time.

The money was included in an updated spending plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The agency is overseeing the $973 million project to deepen the Savannah River between the Port of Savannah and the Atlantic Ocean to make room for larger cargo ships.

Combined with $50 million Congress approved in March for dredging the Savannah harbor, the nearly $85 million total marks the largest amount Washington has spent on the project in a single year. Members of Georgia’s congressional delegation pushed hard for the additional cash, saying construction would face significant delays without it.

“Now we won’t miss a beat next year and won’t have to interrupt construction at all,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, a Republican whose district includes the Savannah port. “This is a very big deal.”

Like other East Coast seaports, Savannah is racing to deepen its shipping channel to accommodate giant cargo ships arriving through an expanded Panama Canal. Bigger ships helped the Savannah port move a record 4 million cargo container units across its docks last year. But without deeper water, those ships can’t travel the river with full loads or at low tide.

Georgia officials for years have said the harbor expansion needs roughly $100 million from Washington annually to stay on track. Federal funding in prior years hasn’t come close, and the Army Corps has relied on roughly $300 million from Georgia taxpayers in recent years to keep the project on schedule.

“The part we’ve got completed, it was primarily on the back of the state government,” Carter said. “Now we’re depending on the federal government to deliver its portion.”

The $85 million in federal funding this year will be enough to avoid delays for now, said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

“We got exactly what we needed and what we asked for,” Lynch said. “There are going to be years that require more than this depending on where you are in the project.”

At the end of February, the Army Corps said dredging was roughly halfway finished along the 40-mile (64-kilometer) stretch of river between the ocean and the Savannah port, the nation’s fourth-busiest container port. The agency said if there are no delays, the project could be finished in January 2022.

The extra money Savannah is getting for fiscal 2018 came from $337 million Congress approved for the Army Corps for navigation project construction in addition to the president’s budget request.

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