By Maria Saporta
The Georgia Port Authority’s executive director is optimistic that federal funding to deepen the Savannah Port will be in place in the next couple of years.
Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Port Authority, spoke at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Chairman’s Club luncheon Tuesday at the Cobb Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
“We strongly believe that the federal government will step up to the plate in a big way in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget,” Foltz said in response to a question. “We believe it will bubble up to the top.”
The deepening of the Savannah Port’s channel from 42 feet to 47 feet has become a top economic development priority for the State of Georgia. The Panama Canal is expanding, which will permit mega ships to cross. Georgia officials believe that if the Savannah Port is to remain competitive in the future, it needs to be able to accommodate the larger ships.
Last October, the federal government recommended that the Savannah Port be deepened — a project that’s estimated to cost $652 million — $262 million coming from the State of Georgia and $390 million coming from the federal government.
So far, the state has allocated $231 million towards the project while waiting on the federal funds.
At the very least, Foltz said state officials had hoped President Barack Obama would have increased the spending limit for the project (the earlier budget projected a $460 million and that needs to be raised to $652 million) in his budget proposal for this year. But the decision was made have the spending cap increased be handled through Congressional legislation rather than the budget.
The U.S. Senate already has approved increasing that spending cap, and the U.S. House is expected to vote on the project by late summer or early fall, Foltz said.
When President Obama was in Atlanta on Sunday, he did reference the need to deepen the ports along the East coast to accommodate the new mega ships that can now travel the Panama Canal.
If significant federal dollars to deepen the Savannah Port were to be included in the FY2015 budget (which begins in July 2014), Foltz said the project would take about three years, meaning it could be completed by the end of 2016.
Foltz said the case to deepen the Savannah Port is strong. Currently the Savannah Port is the fastest-growing container port in the country yet it is “the shallowest major port in the world.” Also, the Savannah Port exports more goods (54 percent) than it imports (46 percent) — helping provide a better trade balance for the United States.
As Foltz said: “We can’t imagine there is a better investment in infrastructure for a port that’s export dominant and the fastest-growing port in the country.”