ATLANTA — Federal officials have recommended funding to deepen the Port of Savannah to accommodate supersize tankers, and Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday that he is asking the Georgia Congressional delegation for help securing the money.
Deal discussed the funding issues involved for the $652 million project just days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval to deepen the channel. That project has been a state priority for 16 years, though it still faces court challenges from South Carolina. Budget cuts have made it difficult for Georgia officials to secure the funding necessary for the effort. The state is responsible for about 40 percent of the project cost. It has already committed more than $180 million for the deepening.
Georgia and other East Coast seaports are hurrying to deepen their harbors to accommodate giant ships, which are expected to begin arriving through the Panama Canal after a major expansion set to be finished in late 2014. Deal estimated that Georgia's dredging project would be complete in 2016 under an optimistic timetable. While the upgraded canal will handle ships needing 50 feet of water, the current riverbed at the Port of Savannah is just 42 feet.
"The important part now is the federal funding component because even though the state of Georgia has about $180 million plus — and we will include additional money in this year's budget to increase that amount — we can't do it by ourselves," Deal said. "It was never contemplated to be a state project. It was contemplated to be a federal-state partnership."
Deal said the assistant Army secretary for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, recommended funding for the project in a letter informing Congress of the agency's approval. That funding could come in one of two ways. Deal said that Congress could amend the project spending approved in a 1999 authorization. A revision in spending would be necessary because the cost of the project has increased significantly since that authorization was first approved.
As an alternative, Congress could include the necessary funding in a future budget bill, Deal said.
Even without federal funding, Georgia could begin purchasing land, conducting environmental remediation work and dredging certain parts of the channel, said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.