Gov. Nathan Deal plans to spend state money to deepen Savannah harbor if federal share falls short

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday he would have Georgia taxpayers pay a heftier portion of the $653 million tab to deepen the Savannah harbor rather than delay the project if the federal government hasn’t funded its share once it’s time to start dredging.

Deal was at the Port of Savannah and said he firmly believes Washington should honor its commitment to cover 60 percent of the project.

But with federal dollars still tight and time running out before supersized cargo ships can start using an expanded Panama Canal, the governor said he’s willing do what’s necessary to begin deepening the Savannah River as soon as possible.

Asked what would happen if the president and Congress fail to find dredging money for the harbor soon, Deal said: “We’ll spend our money.”

“We hope we don’t get to that point,” Deal said. “But it may be one of those things that, if that becomes necessary, we begin the project and hopefully get (federal) funding after the fact to reimburse the state.”

Savannah and other East Coast ports are racing to deepen their harbors in anticipation of mammoth ships arriving via Panama once its canal expansion is finished in 2014.

Earlier this month, the Army Corps of Engineers issued its final report calling for dredging 5 feet from the bottom of the Savannah harbor for a depth of 47 feet. The Georgia Ports Authority is hoping to win final approval later this year. Even on that timetable, and ignoring court challenges pending in neighboring South Carolina that could delay or halt the project, the deepening wouldn’t be finished until 2016.

Georgia port officials say if dredging isn’t under way by the time the expanded Panama Canal opens, the state risks losing shipping business to competitors with deeper water. Savannah now has the fourth busiest container port in the U.S.

“We’re not going to let anything slow us down because time is of the essence,” Deal said. “We need to make it as close to that time frame as possible.”

Deal stopped in Savannah during a victory lap around the state to tout his successes during the legislative session that ended last month. He was signing a state budget that includes an additional $47 million for the harbor deepening, bringing the total state funding approved for the project to $181 million.

Some lawmakers in South Carolina, which is seeking to deepen the harbor of neighboring port competitor Charleston, want to go ahead and authorize additional state borrowing to cover the federal portion of their project should Washington come up short.

Before his remarks Tuesday, Deal had said the federal government needed to come up with its share – about $392 million total. President Obama’s recent proposed budget included $588,000 for the Savannah harbor, and the Army Corps found another $2.5 million for the project. But that’s far from the amount needed to begin dredging.

The governor said he’s still not ready to ask Georgia taxpayers to foot Washington’s portion of the bill.

“I’m not willing to let the federal government off the hook yet,” said Deal, who served in Congress when the 60-40 cost-sharing agreement for the harbor deepening was struck in the late 1990s. “We are expecting them to live up to that. Obviously, if they do not, then we will accommodate accordingly.”

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David Hopper
46
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David Hopper 04/24/12 - 11:23 pm
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Getting this done will be a

Getting this done will be a great step economically for Georgia and Augusta. Increased port traffic means more local jobs too in the transportation and manufacturing sectors. This is simply about investing in our future. We need the infrastructure to remain competitive.

Riverman1
90290
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Riverman1 04/25/12 - 12:41 am
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It seems foolish for the

It seems foolish for the country and GA-SC to spend almost a billion dollars to have two super ports a hundred miles apart. I say either Charleston or Savannah harbor should not be dredged deeper at that cost.

David Parker
7923
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David Parker 04/25/12 - 09:56 am
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Charleston is naturally deep

Charleston is naturally deep enough or deeper and from what I've heard will always be ahead in the game over Savannah. I suppose the disturbing part is 180 million vs Charleston having to spend a small fraction of that to accomplish the same thing. I also heard Savannah will have ongoing maintenance to keep the depth. Charleston appears to have a much easier lot in this. Looking at how Augustans may benefit from increase job opportunities. W/out an interstate connecting Augusta to Savannah, I think you'd have to become a Savannhian to see a significant increase. Some few in Augusta will get OTR jobs that would otherwise not exist, but I'm not so sure there will be an avalanche of new jobs.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 04/25/12 - 10:02 am
0
0
so what is the solution?

so what is the solution?

Can't compete with Charleston from the look of it. What are some alternatives? Are there none and that is why we are pressing forward with deepening the port?

David Hopper
46
Points
David Hopper 04/25/12 - 02:49 pm
1
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You don't need an interstate.

You don't need an interstate. We don't have one now, US 25 is the primary trucking route to Savannah. It is being improved now and has been updated in the past to accommodate expected increase in freight movement. Georgia has been a central freight hub since the Civil War. Unless we want what factories we have here to move to Charleston and taking with them the logistics and transportation jobs that go along with the factory jobs we have to stay competitive and update our infrastructure. I know I do not want those jobs to move, I prefer we create those jobs here in Georgia. By having that port larger here in Georgia, yes Augusta will get jobs and more importantly keep the jobs we already have.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 04/26/12 - 12:42 pm
0
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can't get the numbers

can't get the numbers straight. Sorry so many edits.

Total cost of port expansion/dredging = 639 million (181 from Ga)
**********
I'll acknowledge that some job creation will occurr. But you mention staying competitive. Are we competitive letting Georgians spend 181 million at the onset, to accomplish less than what Charleston will do for 15 million. How much importing and exporting will it take above and beyond what Charleston does, to make up that difference. I see nothing competitve here for 20 years or more. Now take into account that Charleston, by not having to spend that extra 165 million, could very easily offer port access at a much cheaper rate than Savannah, who will quite possibly have to spend millions annually to maintain that deeper depth. I'm not on board at all on this until I see a reasonable study that lays out facts and makes more sense than what is out there now.

David Parker
7923
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David Parker 04/26/12 - 12:44 pm
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RM, it'll be a billion when

RM, it'll be a billion when all is said an done

David Hopper
46
Points
David Hopper 04/27/12 - 11:27 pm
1
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I heard the Atlanta Falcons

I heard the Atlanta Falcons are wanting a similar amount of money to build a new Stadium in Atlanta.....

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