By Nathan Deal
The deepening of the Savannah Harbor ranks as the No. 1 economic development pro-ject in the state of Georgia, and we’ve already waited far too long for action from our federal partners.
We faced another setback this month when the president unveiled his proposed budget without any construction funding for the port. Georgia already has allocated $266 million for the project — the totality of the state share — and I’ve ordered state agencies to use that money to do everything we can under current federal law to get the project under way. As we continue to wait for final congressional authorization and funding, I want to get as much done as possible in the meantime so we don’t fall even further behind schedule.
We’ve spent $45 million on studies, we’ve received every environmental permit needed and our congressional delegation succeeded in passing legislation to let us get started. Unfortunately, the Obama administration, which promised last year to get the harbor deepened “come hell or high water,” disagrees with that legal interpretation. The administration insists there’s one more hurdle: passage of the Water Resources Development Act.
Georgia’s bipartisan congressional delegation has united to fight for this bill. Passage of the water bill will formally approve the $652 million cost level of the deepening, which has increased since the project was authorized 15 years ago. This clears the way for the federal government to appropriate its approximately 60 percent share of the cost.
For now, we’re taking modest but needed steps under current law to begin purchasing property the state will require for the project, including right-of-way properties for site preparation and wetlands mitigation associated with the deepening.
Since Congress authorized the deepening in 1999, the most rigorous economic, environmental and engineering analysis of any pending harbor construction project in the nation has been completed. In that study, the Corps determined that, with a benefit to cost ratio of 5.5 to 1, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will generate a net economic benefit to the nation of $174 million per year upon completion.
With nearly 10 percent of U.S. containerized imports and exports moving through the Port of Savannah, the need to deepen the harbor is now. Many shipping lines are already using much larger ships that will soon fit through the Panama Canal.
These ships are unable to be fully loaded at the port and are often only able to arrive and depart the port at high tide due to depth restrictions — costing Georgia and regional exporters more to trade with the world. These challenges will only be exacerbated once the expansion is finished.
With more than 350,000 jobs in Georgia connected to our ports and $18.5 billion of income for Georgians generated through port-related business every year, we are in a race to modernize this port. I can’t force the federal government to act, but Georgia will do everything in its power to get this done — quickly.
Nathan Deal is the governor of Georgia.