Biden: ‘It’s time we get moving’ on port expansion
by W. Winston Skinner
“It's time we get moving. … It's time to go.”
Vice President Joe Biden, visiting the Port of Savannah on Monday, was emphatic that the expansion of the port must proceed apace. Biden’s visit brought together a wide range of state political figures. The expansion of the port — which includes facilities at Savannah and Brunswick — has been a top priority for state leaders of both parties.
Biden did not, however, bring any promises of additional federal dollars to help spur the deepening of the Savannah port so it can receive larger loads anticipated after an expansion of the Panama Canal in 2015. In fact, his trip to Savannah took place the same day as a visit by Biden to the port in Charleston, S.C.
The Associated Press described Savannah as “a keen rival” with the Charleston port in competition for federal funding.
U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx were among those on hand for Biden’s speech at the Georgia Ports Authority's Garden City Ocean Terminal. He discussed the importance of infrastructure investment to exports, economic competitiveness, and job creation.
"I've been fighting for the expansion and modernization of ports my entire career," he said, mentioning the need to deepen ports around the country. "The growth in the Southeast is gigantic… and what you do here is absolutely amazing." The vice president toured the port facility during his visit. "It's one thing to read about the fastest-growing container port in the country, but it's another thing to see it,” he stated.
During his speech, Biden directly addressed the need to expand the port, putting it in a historical context.
"Why have we grown as a nation? We've grown because of our railroads, our highways, our ports, our locks, our dams," he said. “Seventy-five percent of all the commerce in the world is in the belly or deck of a ship floating out there on the high seas. And what are we doing? We're arguing about whether or not to deepen this port another five feet?”
The port expansion “is not a partisan issue,” Biden said. “It's an economic issue."
The vice president’s visits to Charleston and Savannah were part of a series of port visits this month. Biden visited Baltimore’s on Sept. 9.
He was scheduled to travel to Panama next week, but that trip has been canceled because of discussions about possible military action in Syria.
While Savannah is hours away from Coweta County, the port facilities have a major impact on the local economy. Local companies get merchandise and raw materials that come into the ports at Brunswick and Savannah and also use the ports as a way to ship their products to distant places.
Candace Boothby, president of the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who lives near Grantville, both talked about the importance of the ports for Coweta County businesses and industries earlier this month.
“Our businesses are now in competition with the world markets and not just the domestic one. Our large international corporate base continues to grow, and more efficient and cost-effective ways of getting product to market are essential,” Boothby said.
“According to a study last year by the University of Georgia, our state’s deepwater ports support more than 350,000 jobs across the state. With those numbers, our ports account for about eight percent of employment in Georgia — one out of every 12 jobs,” the congressman said.
“Deepening the harbor at the Port of Savannah is in line with the nation’s priorities, including our focus on increasing American export capabilities. Georgia is a committed partner in this endeavor, and continued federal support is crucial to achieving this goal,” Chambless said Monday.
“This project is critically important to the state of Georgia, Southeast region and nation, and it would support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year while generating billions in revenue. It is my hope that today’s visit will be a catalyst for completing the final steps in this process, and I will continue to work with the White House, the state of Georgia and Congress to see this project through to its completion,” Isakson said.
The state has allocated $231 million toward the project, which now awaits only an update from Congress to the current construction budget of $652 million.