Federal spending bill could speed up Savannah Port expansion | www.myajc.com


Federal spending bill could speed up Savannah Port expansion | www.myajc.com

WASHINGTON — The Port of Savannah’s long-awaited big dig should get a boost once a massive federal spending bill becomes law, expected by week’s end.

After 20 years of study, numerous delays and little federal help, the $650 million project to deepen the port from 42 feet to 47 feet could get underway by spring. Groundbreaking could be accelerated by language tucked into a $1.1 trillion spending bill that cleared the U.S. House on Wednesday and is expected to quickly pass the Senate to avert another government shutdown.

“This isn’t quite a home run, but I think it puts us on third base with a really solid lead,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, a Savannah Republican.

Kingston helped stick language in a report accompanying the bill that tells the Army Corps of Engineers to designate the port as an “ongoing construction project.” Port backers hope this will do two things: allow them to break ground sooner in Savannah and open the floodgates for federal money.

Hurdles remain, though. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must sign a contract with the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) to get the shovels in the ground. It could take another two months for all contractual I’s to be dotted and T’s crossed.

And, ultimately, Congress must resolve the differences between House and Senate versions of the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes the project at a funding level far above the original federal authorization in 1999.

Once the contract is finalized the Corps “can start spending money that the state of Georgia and Gov. (Nathan) Deal have set aside for this project so we can start moving the ball down the football field,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the GPA. “This is a step that’s long overdue and definitely a step forward.”

The deepening to accommodate larger ships coming through a soon-to-be expanded Panama Canal is considered Georgia’s No. 1 economic development priority. The cause has united state political leaders from both parties, including Deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the entire Congressional delegation.

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