All 14 members of Georgia's U.S. House delegation are urging a congressional budget subcommittee to support federal funding for the stalled Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.
They signed the letter Wednesday, addressed to U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, outlining their priorities for the fiscal 2015 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.
"The Port of Savannah is one of the busiest in the country, and this investment will benefit communities well beyond Georgia's borders," said U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a Democrat representing Georgia's 12th Congressional District. "Multiple federal agencies have endorsed this project as technically feasible, economically justified, cost effective, environmentally responsible and in the national interest. It's time to get moving on this project once and for all, and our entire delegation is unified in this effort."
State officials are still trying to find a way to start construction this year on the $652 million harbor deepening a month after the Obama administration refused to seek construction funding for the project and put up a roadblock to Gov. Nathan Deal's effort to use the state's own money to start the dredging.
In the letter, the delegation says that once completed, the "nationally significant" harbor deepening "will provide $174 million of annual, nationwide economic benefits." It also points out that Georgia has allocated $266 million in state money for the project.
"This deserving project, backed by a bipartisan, bicameral congressional delegation, praised by the president and vice president and cleared after a decade of exhaustive studies, should be fully funded and cleared for construction immediately to protect the 350,000-plus jobs supported by our ports and the $174 million in annual net benefits from this project," U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, a Republican representing Georgia's 1st Congressional District, said.
The Georgia congressmen ask for budget language reiterating that Congress has reclassified the Savannah expansion as a project that's under construction, rather than one considered still in the planning phase. The letter also requests that House budget writers again direct the Army Corps of Engineers to acknowledge a two-year waiver Congress approved for an outdated spending cap placed on the project in 1999.
Both provisions, intended to speed construction, were originally included in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress and signed by the president in January. But the Obama administration still withheld construction funding and rejected Deal's state funding idea.
The White House says a water-projects bill stalled by disagreements between the House and Senate must win final approval before Savannah's harbor expansion can proceed. The water-projects bill would eliminate the Savannah project's $459 million spending cap imposed 15 years ago.
Savannah has the fourth-busiest port for container cargo in the U.S. Like other East Coast seaports, Savannah is scrambling to deepen its harbor to make room for supersized ships expected to arrive via an expanded Panama Canal as early as next year.