The U.S. House’s passage Wednesday of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act is being hailed as a breakthrough moment by area government officials looking for federal funding to deepen and expand the Savannah harbor.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called the action a “critical victory” for the state.
“Even though the Water Resources Reform and Development Act still has to go to a conference committee, today’s action by the House is another step toward getting the federal portion of the cost,” Deal said.
“In addition to authorizing the project, the bill could allow Georgia to begin using the money it has put aside for the deepening; that is a critical victory for Georgia as we race to get ready for the much larger ships that will soon sail through an enlarged Panama Canal.”
The bill authorizes $662 million for the dredging project, which includes both the state and federal portions. To date, Georgia has put aside $231 million for the project, Deal said.
Congressman Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, has long favored deepening the harbor and was a sponsor when the bill was first brought to Congress in 1999.
Kingston said the Savannah port expansion project has been studied at a cost of $41 million and he billed it as the “most extensive study of the Savannah River estuary in history.”
“In the time the federal government has spent studying this project, China has taken a larger and deeper port from start to finish,” he said. “We cannot allow this to continue if we want to remain competitive.”
Georgia Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, who represents Bryan County and portions of Chatham and Liberty counties, also issued a statement regarding the vote, which still has to clear the Senate and be signed by President Obama.
“In 2015 the Panama Canal will begin allowing for larger container ships to pass with imports and exports,” Carter said.
“Without the deepening project, the Savannah Harbor would otherwise be unable to handle these larger craft, leading them to be routed elsewhere and thus greatly harming our local economy. We will now be able to continue to compete on a global scale.”
Kingston said Georgia’s ports support more than 350,000 jobs at home but 75 percent of the 21,000 companies they service are based in other states.
He said the finished project will, “free up $231 million in private capital annually that can be invested in business and job creation.”