By Mike Klein
President Barack Obama has signed legislation that will provide nearly a half billion federal dollars to deepen the Savannah River and Harbor, a project that is essential to Georgia’s economic future when larger ships begin to move through the Panama Canal. Georgia congressional delegation members attended Tuesday morning’s White House signing ceremony.
The President said, “As more of the world’s cargo is transported on these massive ships we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got bridges high enough and ports that are big enough to hold them and accommodate them so that our businesses can keep selling goods made in America to the rest of the world.” The Port of Savannah is among thirty-four water infrastructure projects funded by House Resolution 3080. Boston Harbor will also be deepened.
The Savannah River and Harbor deepening project has been under consideration – and much bureaucratic analysis — for more than fifteen years. The port will be dredged to 47 feet, up five feet from current maximum depth. The Harbor channel entrance will be extended seven miles further into the Atlantic.
“This project is crucial for our region and will support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year while generating billions in revenue for the entire southeast,” said Georgia’s two United States Senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. “We have personally received confirmation from the administration that there is no longer any impediment to moving forward with the Savannah harbor project or to obtain federal funds down the road to support the project.”
To understand why this is important look to Panama where the canal that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans is being improved so larger ships can transit between the two oceans. Failure to deepen the Savannah facility would reduce its capability to handle global shipping and likely would cause Savannah to lose its ranking as one of North America’s leading ports.
Panama expansion was slated to finish this year but now a 2015 construction completion seems more likely. If you wonder how much bigger these ships can get, think about cargo monsters that are twice the size of those that already transit the channel.
Total current estimated cost for the Savannah River project is $706 million. Georgia’s share would be about $266 million which has already been set aside in state funds. The federal government will become responsible for remaining costs.
Congress initially approved SHEP — the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in 1999. The Port of Savannah currently moves four times the number of container ships that passed through the facility fifteen years ago. The state says Georgia’s Savannah and Brunswick deep water ports support more than 352,000 jobs annually while generating $66.9 billion in revenue, $18.5 billion in income and $2.5 billion in state and local taxes.
Georgia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will execute an agreement to stipulate more specifically how costs will be shared. Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz said in a statement Tuesday morning that the agreement should be complete within ninety days.