isakson: Savannah port ‘most important’ project

by W. Winston Skinner

Expansion of the port at Savannah is “the most important single project for our state,” according to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

In an interview at The Newnan Times-Herald on Wednesday morning, the senator said the conference committee report that will finalize funding for the harbor deepening project should be done soon. He said the investment — though many miles and hours away — will have a major economic impact in Coweta County.

“You’ve got a lot of distribution here,” he noted.

Isakson was part of a group that visited Panama recently with Vice Pres. Joe Biden. Isakson praised Biden “for his continual support of the port of Savannah.”

The Panama Canal is being expanded. Ships coming through the locks now are 103 feet wide. After the upgrade, ships 163 feet wide will be coming through.

“They’re going to carry 14,000 tractor-trailer container loads each,” Isakson said.

Savannah’s port will not be able to serve the larger ships without being improved. “We’ve got to get this project done,” he said.

There will be an economic ripple from the ports project. Much of the cargo will be loaded onto traincars and transported to “an inland port” in Cordele for processing — creating a new node of high-paying jobs, Isakson said.

“The best solution to poverty is a job. The best way to get a job is to create a catalyst for a job,” Isakson said. The port expansion will do that.

Isakson said the recovery from the economic collapse of 2007 has been slower than the recovery from the Great Depression of 1929. Growth rates have been in the 1.7-2.3 percent range — when the rate needs to be 4 percent.

He said uncertainty about the economy and the government — as well as excessive regulation — are keeping the recovery sluggish. “Jobs for the American people and a competitive environment in the economy” should be high priorities, he said. He noted that the top companies in America 20 years ago were manufacturers but today they are service companies. That means lower incomes and “less buying power for the consumer,” Isakson said.

Isakson said 53 percent of graduates from liberal arts colleges these days “can’t find jobs.” He praised programs like Coweta’s Central Educational Center that provide technical training along with academics. “Those are the kids who are getting hired.”

The senator also commented on Hobby Lobby’s challenge of certain segments of the Affordable Care Act that relate to abortion and contraception. The owners of the craft store chain, which has a store in Newnan, say the requirements violate their religious beliefs.

Isakson said religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception have generally been acceptable exceptions to federal rules. Isakson said Hobby Lobby’s position constitutes “a matter of religious conscience” and that requiring them to pay for services that violate their beliefs would be “a break with precedent.”

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