SAVANNAH, Ga. — The Port of Savannah hopes to add another prominent supporter of deepening its busy shipping channel when Vice President Joe Biden visits its docks today. Hours earlier, Biden will bring a similar message of adding jobs by investing in U.S. seaports to the Port of Charleston, S.C., which has harbor expansion plans of its own.
The ports are among those scrambling for federal permits and funding to make room for supersized cargo ships expected to begin arriving in 2015 through an expanded Panama Canal. The timing of Biden’s visit ensures both Georgia and South Carolina can claim White House support without the Obama administration appearing to favor one.
South Carolina officials in the state Legislature and the courts had tried to stop or at least stall Georgia’s plans to deepen more than 30 miles of the Savannah River until a settlement was reached in April.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which approved deepening the Savannah harbor last year, plans to spend $652 million and could finish the job as early as 2016. Charleston hopes to receive a permit for its own $350 million harbor expansion from the federal government in 2015, with construction taking several more years. The federal and state governments would share the cost of each project.
With Georgia’s harbor expansion plans years ahead, South Carolina lawmakers feared losing more ground after Savannah pulled ahead of Charleston to become the nation’s fourth busiest container port in 2006. The South Carolina Legislature voted last year to undo a permit granted by their state regulators to allow Georgia to deepen the Savannah River channel.
The feud put Republican Gov. Nikki Haley against legislators from her own party. One of them, Rep. Jim Merrill of Charleston, called the governor “the sole person in the state of South Carolina who is intent on helping Georgia gain an advantage over South Carolina.”