Kingston, Chambliss, Isakson cheer Savannah Harbor expansion money
Special to the Herald
The following is the text of a joint news release issued by U.S. Rep. Jack Kingson, R-Ga., and U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.:
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., applauded new construction funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, or SHEP, in the government spending bill passed by Congress over the weekend.
The 2015 Appropriations bill includes $1.52 million in construction funding that will keep this vital economic infrastructure project on track. To ensure this money is put to work, the Obama administration is restricted from further needless delays.
Kingston, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, said: "We have been toiling in the fields on this project for nearly two decades and overcome countless bureaucratic hurdles. Once again, Congress has made clear that the project should move forward without further delay. I hope the Obama administration will join us in honoring its commitment to this project of regional and national importance. In the words of the president himself, 'we can't wait.'"
"Georgia has fought tirelessly to promote SHEP and the growth and opportunity it will bring to the entire Southeast and our national economy," said Chambliss. "The spending bill passed by Congress includes funding and clear guidance to ensure the administration cannot needlessly delay this vital project. With the project partnership agreement signed, paving the way towards SHEP's construction, this bill brings us even closer to getting this project done."
"I am thrilled we are sending such a strong message with this bill that the federal government must continue to pay its share for Georgia's No. 1 economic development project — the expansion and deepening of the Port of Savannah," said Isakson. "This project is crucial for our region and will support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year while generating billions in revenue for Georgia and the entire Southeast."
Congress designated the harbor expansion as a new start in 2009 and has provided construction funding for it each year since. This year, the Appropriations Committee went a step further in explicitly barring the administration from using funds to evaluate whether to designate it as a new start, which could lead to further delays.
In October, officials from the Georgia Ports Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers signed a project partnership agreement to officially launch construction on the project. The agreement allows the Corps to use part of the $209 million in state funds already appropriated for the project while it awaits further investment from the federal government.
SAVANNAH — A $1.1 trillion spending bill approved by Congress includes a small amount of money to help begin deepening the Port of Savannah's shipping channel, and Georgia officials said they're confident more federal funding will follow once the $706 million project gets underway.
The budget measure sent to the White House over the weekend included $1.5 million in construction funding for the harbor expansion, which is expected to get started in early 2015 after more than 15 years of studies, lawsuits and bureaucratic delays. Savannah, which has the nation's fourth-busiest container port, is racing for deeper water to make room for larger cargo ships expected to begin arriving in 2016 via an expanded Panama Canal.
Congress has appropriated small sums for the Savannah project since 2009. This latest installment would cover less than 1 percent of the $250 million the Army Corps of Engineers plans to spend in the first year of construction. The federal government has committed to pay 60 percent of the final cost, but budgets have been tight in Washington, so Gov. Nathan Deal agreed to start dredging using $266 million in state money upfront.
Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said Monday that the inclusion of construction money in the spending bill "is a good sign that significant funding will be in place going forward."
Three of the harbor expansion's major proponents in Congress—- Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston and Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss — noted the spending bill also contains language that the Obama administration should treat the Savannah harbor deepening as an "ongoing construction project" in future budget requests.
"Congress has made clear that the project should move forward without further delay," Kingston said in a prepared statement Monday.
The Corps plans to deepen the Savannah River shipping channel by 5 feet along a 39-mile stretch that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the port's docks upstream from downtown Savannah. Work isn't expected to be finished until 2020, and that's if everything goes smoothly.
The project cleared its final bureaucratic hurdles this year after Congress raised an outdated spending cap placed upon the harbor expansion when it was first authorized for study in 1999. In October, state and federal officials signed a cost-sharing agreement that allowed the Corps to begin soliciting bids on two contracts for the first year of construction.