SAVANNAH – A Georgia congressman said Friday the state's lawmakers still hope to boost federal funding to deepen the busy shipping channel to the Port of Savannah as seaports along the U.S. East Coast compete for money to make room for larger cargo ships.
Rep. Buddy Carter of neighboring Pooler toured the Savannah port Friday with fellow Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, chairman of a House subcommittee with jurisdiction over port regulations. The Army Corps of Engineers is in the midst of a $973 million project to deepen the Savannah River shipping channel between the port and the Atlantic Ocean.
Savannah and competing U.S. ports are scrambling for deeper water to accommodate giant cargo ships that began arriving last year via an expanded Panama Canal. President Donald Trump's latest budget proposal requests $50 million for the Savannah harbor. That's about half the amount Georgia officials say is needed to keep the deepening on schedule.
Asked about prospects for raising that amount, Carter told reporters at the port Friday: "We continue to do everything we can to make sure that's going to be the case."
Savannah has the second-busiest container port on the East Coast, and Carter said he's working to make sure the White House understands its importance as a gateway for trade to the entire Southeast. He's also pushing the Army Corps' estimate that every dollar spent on the project will return $7.30 to the U.S. economy.
"I will say I'm confident the administration understands how important it is for us to get the funding that we need in order to get this project completed," said Carter, adding he recently made the case to White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.
The Georgia Ports Authority credited the Panama Canal expansion with pushing container trade at the Savannah port to a record 3.85 million container units in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Fiscal 2018 is on track to shatter that record. Savannah saw imports and exports of containers — the big metal boxes used to ship goods ranging from consumer electronics to frozen chickens — jump 32 percent last month compared to October 2016. It was the first time the port had moved more than 400,000 container units in a single month.
While larger ships have managed to bring record amounts of cargo to the Port of Savannah with the channel deepening less than halfway finished, they're unable to navigate the river with full loads or at low tide.
Graves' House subcommittee doesn't overseeing funding for U.S. seaports. But it has another important issue facing Savannah on its agenda.
The harbor deepening currently has a spending cap of $706 million approved by Congress in 2014. That cap will need to be raised to the project's revised cost of $973 million before the dredging can be finished.
Graves said legislation has been drafted to again increase the spending authorization for the Savannah harbor.
"I think we'll be moving forward on that in the first quarter of next year," Graves said.