Lobbying heat up for Savannah port deepening

Published On: Nov 17 2013 09:41:37 AM EST
Port of Savannah

ATLANTA -

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed will travel with Vice President Joe Biden to the Panama Canal on Monday as Georgia officials seek federal money to deepen the Port of Savannah.

Reed, a Democrat, is likely to lobby Biden for federal funds to deepen Savannah's port so ships passing through the newly enlarged Panama Canal can load and unload goods locally. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal took a similar trip in September.

"The port deepening will be Georgia's largest economic development project and the positive impact on Atlanta cannot be overstated," Reed said Friday, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The project will fuel the state, region and city's economic growth, strengthen our global competitiveness" and boost airport business.

The dredging project in Georgia was first approved in 1999 but was stalled by political disputes, environmental conflicts and administrative delays. In October, House lawmakers voted to authorize the $662 million project to deepen the port from 42 feet to 47 feet. However, the U.S. government has not yet committed any funding.

The port in Savannah and its cousin in Brunswick support nearly 300,000 jobs across the state, according to a University of Georgia study.  Brunswick' Harbor was deepened from 30 feet to 36 feet in 2007 to accommodate larger cargo carriers and attract new business.

It remains unclear whether larger ships sailing across a newly deepened Panama Canal will stop in Georgia. A review by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 10 ports from New York to Miami are planning billions of dollars in expansions over the next decade. Some of those ports will be deeper than Savannah's even after the local expansion project.

In addition to Biden, Reed will travel to Panama with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the mayors of Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, said Friday that he has met with officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Obama administration budget planners to lobby for money for the Georgia port expansion. Meanwhile, Georgia officials have already committed $231 million for the project. Deal said this week he will request an additional $35 million in state funding.

"I'd hate for the federal government to let the little state of Georgia embarrass them, but we're putting them in that posture if they don't," Deal said.

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