By David Pendered
Now that Congress has approved federal funding for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, construction is expected to begin this autumn.
The Georgia Ports Authority said Thursday the first construction projects are to include: dredging the Savannah channel entrance seven miles farther into the Atlantic Ocean; recovering the CSS Georgia ironclad warship; and mitigation features including a freshwater storage facility for Savannah.
Incidentally, Congress did not give Savannah an exclusive on a harbor-deepening project. Similar projects were approved for Boston and Jacksonville, Fla., enabling all of three ports to handle the bigger ships expected to visit the East Coast once the expanded Panama Canal opens next year, if the current construction schedule is maintained.
Boston’s harbor and the federal channel to Jacksonville, Fla. are to be deepened to 47 feet, according to project descriptions posted by bostonglobe.com and jaxport.com. Savannah’s harbor is to be taken to 47 feet.
Georgia officials expect to pass the first milestone of this new phase within 90 days – the signing of financial agreements between the state and federal governments. The clock on this deadline starts ticking when President Obama signs the $12.3 billion water bill Congress sent him on Thursday.
Ports officials expect to begin construction by using the $266 million in state funding already provided for the project. The money spent will be applied to the state’s total share of the project once federal funding begins.
One significant benefit of the federal legislation for the Savannah project is that it lifts a spending limit set in 1999. Both state and federal funds will be able to flow to the project. Georgia has approved $266 million in bonds for the project.
In Georgia, officials who worked on this final effort to gain federal funds expressed optimism because Congress provided the funding, and hope that freight-laden ships will prove to be an economic benefit.
Gov. Nathan Deal:
- “This landmark legislation will update an outdated spending cap that was put on the Savannah Harbor deepening project more than a decade ago, eliminating the last legislative hurdle and allowing us to use the money we have set aside to begin construction. With the understanding that we’ll have a federal-state split on funding, Georgia has lived up to its promises. We’ve now put aside $266 million — the total state share. This project is vitally important for economic development and job creation not only in the Southeast, but nationally as well.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed:
“I am honored to have been a part of the bipartisan group of Georgia leaders that have gotten us to this day. My vision is for Atlanta and Georgia to be the logistics hub of the Western Hemisphere, where ideas, people and goods connect. The Port of Savannah, with a deeper harbor, is an essential part of that vision.”
Georgia Ports Authority board Chairman Robert Jepson:
- “After 16 years of study, we are now on the eve of construction. This project will provide significant annual benefits to American businesses, reducing shipping costs by $213 million a year – for a return on investment of $5.50 for every dollar spent to construct and maintain this project.”
Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz:
- “Today’s action [Senate passage of the water bill] is an important step toward better accommodating the larger vessels that are the new standard in global shipping. Georgians owe a debt of gratitude to the members of our congressional delegation, who worked tirelessly for more than a decade to bring this day about. … The deepening will cut transportation costs by reducing transit delays for larger, more efficient Post-Panamax vesselss. Cost reductions of about 30 percent are expected, saving billions over the 50-year life of the project.”