Keep it moving. That is the best way to ensure Georgia’s long-in-coming effort to deepen the Port of Savannah eventually gets done, even while every entity involved seemingly agrees the necessity for the work is, or should be, a foregone conclusion.
Metro Atlanta, the state that surrounds it and, arguably, the greater Southeast and even the rest of the U.S. will see economic benefits from making Savannah’s harbor more accessible to a larger class of oceangoing ships that already are hauling the products of commerce.
Such optimism provides the most productive lens through which to view the latest bureaucratic logjam that earlier this month delayed once more the final — really final — funding for the project. In truth, this latest event is but one more riverbend encountered in what’s been a long, tiring voyage. Election-year sloganeering by both the red and blue teams should not obscure this big-picture point.
Understanding all that helps interested parties — a group that should include all Georgians — make sense of the news from Washington a few weeks ago that full funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) had at least one more hurdle to top.
Much was made then over the Savannah project being passed over for the big bucks in President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal. All that was included was a paltry $1.62 million for yet more study. And Army Corps of Engineers officials said this month too that without this final, final clearance the project cannot begin, even using $231 million the state has already socked away as part of its share of the estimated $685 million cost.
The official reason for the delay involves a mix of bureaucratic requirements, political process and the real-world financial realization that paying for work tomorrow inevitably costs more than writing the check yesterday. Never is that time value of money thing more true than when the time difference in question spans more than a decade, which is the case with SHEP.
All of which brings us to Washington once again. Our gridlocked U.S. Congress now has before it legislation known in one version as the Water Resources and Development Act, aka WRDA to the Beltway types. Versions of it have passed both the House and Senate, which is an accomplishment in itself these days. The legislation now is in front of a conference committee that’s aiming to reconcile both chambers’ versions. This slow slog of a process itself is classic government, as is the Obama administration’s insistence that things can’t move ahead without WRDA passing.
As with most any point before any legislative body these days, that conclusion is disputed at best and derided at worst by those who disagree. The arguments pro and con might be entertaining were it not for that immutable time value of money factor. The longer the delay, the larger the final bill for deepening the 30-odd miles of river between Savannah’s port and the open ocean. Fiscal prudence demands far greater speed than we’ve seen thus far.
That reason alone should motivate all the politicians remotely involved to do everything within their power to speed final approval for SHEP. In an increasingly rare point of bipartisan agreement in this contentious age, both sides of the aisle claim to support the Savannah effort. Vice President Joe Biden, during a visit to Savannah in September, contended that “It’s time we get moving.” More famously, he remarked that, “We are going to get this done, as my grandfather would say, come hell or high water.” Since then, neither of those two things — nor final approval for SHEP — has been forthcoming.
As a point of political gamesmanship, it’s not unexpected perhaps that Washington might have laid down a bureaucratic speed-bump this month to tweak Georgia’s elected class for leaving no stone unthrown on other issues when it comes to criticizing the current administration specifically and the federal government in general. And even some Georgia Democrats have lobbed criticism at D.C. for its dilly-dallying on SHEP.
In the spirit that political theatrics are as old as our government itself, such is to be expected. Yet, the need to drum up drama on either side to fire up the electorate should not trump nor delay what most everyone agrees is a sorely needed project that will yield significant benefits to our economy. Improving critical U.S. infrastructure like the Port of Savannah is too important for this type of one-upmanship. It does little but increase costs over time — or waste money, in other words.
Since we’re all in agreement on this project — supposedly, at least — let’s get on with it.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.