In 1999 Congress passed legislation to deepen the Savannah River. This is not a new concept. When James Oglethorpe sailed up the Savannah River in 1733, the depth was 12 feet. When I worked in the late 1970s on the waterfront the depth was about 33 feet. We have consistently deepened the river with the advancement of deep-water ships visiting the port.
This deepening has allowed Georgia to keep pace with international trade competition. In fact, today Savannah is the second-largest port on our East Coast. Approximately 352,000 jobs in Georgia are related to the port. The economic impact is approximately $18.5 billion. The cost benefit ratio is 5.5 to 1. This is why the project is supported all over the state and by members of Congress in Georgia from both parties.
Because of environmental studies, a lawsuit by South Carolina and myriad other obstacles, it has taken all these years to begin dredging. Members of the Georgia congressional delegation have met repeatedly with White House officials and been given assurance they supported the project.
VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden famously professed his unwavering commitment last Sept. 16, when, standing on the Savannah dock, he promised it would be done “come hell or high water.” He said, “It’s time we get moving. Folks, this is not a partisan issue. It is an economic issue.”
It was therefore with shock and disappointment that I heard the Obama administration did not commit one penny of construction money for the project in its just-released 2015 budget proposal.
However, in spite of this lack of support, I remain optimistic. Fortunately we have a Plan B. We already have overcome major obstacles. We are committed to see it through in spite of the president’s objection.
Last year the House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act, which affirms congressional direction for these projects. This legislation now is being negotiated with the Senate and hopefully will be voted on in final form in April.
Stimulating our economy and creating new jobs through increased import and export trade is extremely important. That is why I pledge to do everything possible to initiate port construction.
(The writer has represented Georgia’s House District 1 in Congress since 1993.)