Georgia has its place on more than its share of “Top 10” lists — everything from World’s Busiest Airport to among the world’s top producers of peanuts and peaches. It also is on the country’s “Top 5 List” for a distinction that few realize, especially those who live in our part of the state. That is, Savannah is the country’s fourth-busiest port, and second only to the Port of New York (including NYC and New Jersey) on the East Coast. More than 2.9 million containers moved through Savannah last year as imports or exports.
That sounds great, but it is crucial that Savannah’s harbor be deepened for it to remain competitive. That’s because supersized cargo ships will soon be plying East Coast waters when the widening of the Panama Canal is completed in 2015. Without the deepening, they would not be able to access the city’s port facilities.
Washington has signed off on the widening project and on similar projects in other ports. In Savannah’s case, it would mean dredging five feet of sand from the channel along 30 miles near the mouth of the Savannah River.
How important is the project not just to Savannah, but to all of Georgia? Well consider this: One of every 15 jobs in Georgia is dependent on the state’s ports, primarily Savannah. That’s approximately 295,000 jobs, which in turn generate $2.6 billion in state and local taxes and $61.7 billion in annual revenue, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.
And among the most outspoken supporters of the expansion has been none other than Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who, like Gov. Nathan Deal, understands the importance of making it easy for Georgia to keep doing business with its biggest trading partner — Asia.
“We already have the busiest airport on the planet and an outstanding highway network that connects us to the fastest-growing container port in the country. And I think the deepening of the port is similar in importance to the development and expansion of Hartsfield-Jackson airport,” Reed recently told Georgia Trend magazine.
Unfortunately, even though Washington has approved the deepening, it has yet to come up with the $652 million needed to pay for it.
Much to his credit, and with the clock steadily ticking, Deal says he’s willing to use state money to jump-start the project. The state is required to pay for 40 percent of the project. But rather than wait on Washington, the governor said he’s ready to use the state’s share “up front” to get things going.
“We are going to ask the secretary of the Army to give us the go-ahead to begin to spend our own money with the idea that they will contribute as quickly as possible,” he said.
Added Deal, “We have our money available and we’re ready to spend it to begin this project. We think we need to start as quickly as possible.”
Agreed. And hopefully President Obama and Congress will begin to see the light as well.