11/20: Port of Savannah project: Ga., S.C. must float this boat together

The AJC Editorial Board

Six feet. That’s what stands between increased prosperity for Atlanta, Georgia and the Southeast. It is the depth of silt needing to be scraped from the Savannah River’s bed to allow passage of larger container ships expected to begin calling on Eastern Seaboard ports in 2014.

The $600 million project to dredge the 32 miles of river between the ocean and Savannah’s port must move forward quickly. The big ships won’t wait, and neither can Georgia.

As has been the case across four centuries now, oceangoing freighters docking in Savannah tie us into profitable global trading lanes. These days, they float dollars into Georgia’s economy by the billions.

We can’t afford to see that economic force and its jobs travel elsewhere when the bigger boats come calling. Public money spent to keep Savannah’s port globally competitive is a worthwhile investment in this region’s (and nation’s) economic competitiveness. Deepening the port will help create and retain jobs across Georgia.

State and local officials have rowed hard to lobby for the Savannah River work. Georgia taxpayers have already kicked in $134 million, and Gov. Nathan Deal plans to ask a spending-skittish General Assembly to approve another $46.7 million next year. Lawmakers should neither balk, nor grandstand, at this request.

Georgia should do its part, but the big money will come from Washington. The U.S. Senate is hashing over a spending bill that includes a $600,000 “placeholder” for Savannah. Our congressional lawmakers have also quietly worked to secure millions in additional funding.

And we can take heart in last week’s visit to the port by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. What he saw must have made a favorable impression because The Associated Press quoted him as saying, “We’ll figure out how to get the federal dollars to make this project happen.” Good for him.

And even better for Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who showed LaHood around the bustling harbor. Their work on this and other issues has apparently done a lot to change LaHood’s earlier views of transportation in Georgia. During a spirited 2009 meeting with this Editorial Board and in other public appearances, LaHood famously remarked then that Georgia wouldn’t get much in the way of federal funding for transit if it didn’t get “its act together.”

Now that Washington thinks we’ve gotten our act in order, it’s time for dissenting voices in South Carolina to do the same. Officials have kicked up a fuss there in recent days after the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control chose to permit the dredging project. In a backlash, South Carolina’s Savannah River Maritime Commission declared the dredging permit invalid.

Such political saber-rattling can be entertaining, but it’s also the sort of counterproductive small-ball that can cause the Southeast to lose economic growth to other regions that have the good sense to recognize they can do more through cohesion than through noisy clashes that scare away job creators and investors.

Interstate cooperation is needed. Think of the economic possibilities posed by working collaboratively to grow jobs and industry along the 105-mile corridor between Savannah and Charleston. Georgia’s latest $60 million overture to help satisfy South Carolina’s environmental concerns is a substantial good-will offering toward both this worthy effort and ensuring the river’s environment isn’t damaged by dredging.

As Gov. Deal remarked during the Georgia Chamber’s recent annual State of the Ports luncheon, “I do not view South Carolina as an enemy or competitor in that regard. We should be working together and if we do, we will all benefit and be better off.” Amen.

A protracted interstate squabble also sours the waters of cooperation that will be needed for the two states to partner in developing the proposed $5 billion port at Jasper, a few miles down the river from Savannah’s port.

Battling the Savannah project will not guarantee that Jasper gets built, or that Charleston’s port will see more ships.

Rather, it’s more likely to damage economic prospects to some degree in both states. If nothing else, South Carolina and Georgia should agree on rejecting that outcome.

Andre Jackson, 
for the Editorial Board

Tell us what you think.

9 comments Add your comment


November 21st, 2011
2:05 pm

what gurantee do we have against polluting the Floridian Aqufier?Fresh water is scarce as is.

Ben The Independent

November 21st, 2011
10:19 am

The Savannah harbor project is not a place to hang objections based on trade imbalances, and gotchas relating to nonexistant Environmental issues. Everyone should be honest and just say ‘I’m for’ or ‘I’m against’ Savannah being able to accommodate the larger ships coming in 2014. True competition between Savannah and Charleston ports should be allowed as that is the American way.


November 20th, 2011
11:25 pm

The problem with Savannah is that 38 MILES OF RIVER BED MUST BE DREDGED POSSIBLY CAUSING SEVERE CONTAMINATION OF GROUND WATER, SEVERAL THOUSAND ACRES OF MARSH, A TOTAL WASTE OF MORE THAN $600 MILLION! Savannah is not a natural harbor, Charleston is! The proposed joint port in Jasper County should be put through licensing and environmental review post haste, fast tracked, and, the $600 million used to begin that construction with a goal of operations in 2 to 3 years! Then both states will reap the benefit!


November 20th, 2011
6:42 pm

I’m glad to see Atlanta and Georgia thinking globally. It’s also vital that the region just don’t depend on the Atlanta Airport for the transport of cargo.


November 20th, 2011
1:27 pm

This project should’ve been started years ago. It’s Basic Infrastructure 101, no less important than maintaining roads and bridges and building dams and reservoirs. All this hullabaloo about scraping some mud off a river bottom, just get on with it!

Grob Hahn

November 20th, 2011
1:23 pm

It would be nice to “just say no” to Chinese products wouldn’t it? But we can’t because the American companies who used to make those products are gone. Those companies and those jobs were sold out from under us. The only way we can regain this is to support American companies who attempt to rebuild that sector of the economy. And that isn’t going to be cheap. A Chinese toaster can be had for less than $20. An American toaster will cost $40 or more. So there’s the choice we have to come to terms with. If we want America back, we can’t keep buying China.


November 20th, 2011
8:44 am

Just say no to more China junk into our country!

nelson howard

November 20th, 2011
7:49 am

$600,000,000 million dollars when th eCongressional Super Committee is unable at this time to cut much of any thing from the budget. According to the Army Corp of Engineers, the Savannah River would have to be dredged to a depth of 48 feet for a distance of 38 miles, all the way to Garden City.
Also, there would be a very dramatic decrease in the oxygen levels in the river threatening the wild life. Lastly, but certainly not leastly, there is a strong possiblity that dredging that deep wil contaminate the ground water in the area that is the drinking water for 1.5 million people.
Also, from the 1950s, large ships have been traversing the Great Lakes and blowing their ballast into the St. Lawrence River as well as the Great Lakes leaving an incrustation of Zebra Mussells carpeting the bottom as as well as water intakes.

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