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Water-projects bill is good news
Legislative update
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Finally, just when we thought it would never happen again, it does — we get some good news out of Washington, D.C.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Reform Development Act, an $8.2 billion water-projects bill that, among other things, authorizes the deepening of the Savannah Harbor.
Earlier, the Senate passed a similar version of the same bill calling for a $12.5 billion project list.  
The bill now goes to a conference committee of House and Senate members, where the differences will be worked out and sent back to both chambers to be voted on again. This is expected to happen with few delays. The bill then will go to the president, who has indicated that he will sign it into law.
Word of the bill’s passing was welcome news to leaders across our state, including Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz and others who have worked diligently on this project over the years.
The bill, which passed the House by an overwhelming 417-3 vote, garnered bipartisan support, including all 14 members of the Georgia delegation. In the earlier Senate vote, both Georgia senators voted for the bill as well.
Specifically, the bill calls for an increase in total funds for the Savannah Harbor project to $662 million. With Georgia already appropriating $231 million for its portion, the project now has the necessary federal funding to move forward.
The Legislature, at the constant urging of the Chatham County legislative delegation led by Chairman Ron Stephens, long has recognized the economic significance of this project.   
Even through tough economic times during the past few years, the Legislature has appropriated funds for this project, including $50 million this past session to bring the total state commitment thus far to $231 million.
Upon being signed into law, the bill also could allow Georgia to immediately begin using the money it has appropriated for the project helping to catch up the much-delayed project.   
The bill also contains major changes in the way Congress budgets and allocates money for water projects, including setting hard deadlines on the time and cost of studies by limiting feasibility studies to three years and limiting the federal cost of studies to $3 million.  
To understand how significant a change this is, one only has to look at the time and money that has been spent on the harbor’s deepening project.
Environmental reviews for future water projects are shortened by this bill by requiring concurrent reviews and setting review deadlines. It also sunsets new authorizations if construction has not started within seven years, helping to prevent future project backlogs.
In atypical Washington fashion, the changes for future water projects outlined in this bill indicate that the federal government has learned from the expensive, laborious process that projects like the Savannah Harbor deepening have experienced.  This is refreshing and encouraging.
The significance of the passage of this bill cannot be overstated. Georgia’s deep-water ports are the economic engine for our state and the southeastern United States.  More than 352,000 jobs in our state and 21,000 companies throughout the country are supported by the ports.
The deepening of the Savannah Harbor will assure that our port is ready for the post-Panamanic ships that will be calling in the future and allow this economic engine to continue to grow.
But perhaps the most significant message to this great news is that our leaders in Washington finally may understand the importance of economic development.
I firmly believe that in order for our country to balance our budget and retire our national debt in the future, we not only must have spending cuts and entitlement reform, we also must have economic development. We must grow our way out of this.
Projects such as the deepening of the Savannah Harbor — in which for every dollar we invest, we have a return of $5.50 — give us a nautical path to getting our financial ship in order.
Yes, the news out of Washington, D.C., was good last week.

Carter can be reached at 404-656-5109.

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