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Obama budget includes funds for port expansion
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ATLANTA — President Barack Obama on Monday proposed $2.8 million towards deepening the shipping channel to the Port of Savannah — far less than the $105 million supporters wanted, but they say the amount is enough to keep the effort on the federal radar.

The Savannah port is one of the nation's busiest, and federal approval of the expansion is expected later this year. Monday's proposed funding is an improvement over last year's $600,000 allocation, and Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz called the latest proposal "an important step."

Gov. Nathan Deal agreed, saying that the proposed funding "will allow this project to stay on track."

"The funds are a step in the right direction and a tremendous improvement over last year," said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. "But the appropriation amount is a small part of the story here. What really matters, in the governor's eyes, is this signals the federal government's commitment to deepening the Port of Savannah. This is Washington saying, 'This is going to happen.'"

Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have traveled frequently to Washington in the last year to lobby for the project. Reed, a Democrat with contacts in Obama's administration, sees the port expansion as part of a statewide and regional economic strategy that includes the city of Atlanta.

Reed spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs said Monday's funding announcement is proof that their efforts are paying off.

"They have the attention of Washington," said Jacobs, who pointed out that this year's proposal is more than last year's $600,000 allocation. "The project continues to have Mayor Reed's full attention and we'll be continually working on it in the weeks and months ahead."

Georgia's U.S. senators also expressed their approval.

"The Savannah Harbor expansion is a vitally important endeavor that will bring more jobs and businesses not just to Georgia, but to the entire Southeast," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss in a statement. "''I am pleased that the Obama administration is still in support of this project."

In a statement, Sen. Johnny Isakson called the news "promising," and echoed comments that "the designation of additional funding for the Savannah Harbor signifies that the project continues to have support at the federal level."

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release the final study documents this spring and begin the construction phase of the harbor deepening in the next fiscal year.

The Port of Savannah is the fourth largest container port in the country, serving approximately 21,000 companies. The harbor project will prepare a new class of larger container ships that are nearly three times the capacity of those currently able to navigate the Panama Canal — which is undergoing its own expansion, expected to be complete in 2014.

The Savannah expansion is anticipated for completion by 2016.


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