Not included in Obama’s budget

Savannah funding in jeopardy?

by W. Winston Skinner

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“We are going to get this done, come hell or high water.”

Those were the words of Vice Pres. Joe Biden when he visited the Port of Savannah last year. Subsequently, a federal law was passed that seemed to move improvement of the port to priority status.

However, when the Obama administration’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014 was released Tuesday, funding for the port expansion was not in it. And that lack sparked strong reaction from Georgia’s U.S. senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.

The two issued a joint statement strongly criticizing the Obama administration for not including the ports funding. “We are tired of waiting,” Chambliss and Isakson stated.

“We are deeply disappointed and frustrated to see the promises to help advance the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) made by President Obama and Vice President Biden were not fulfilled in today’s budget release. It is baffling to see this administration choose to ignore a statute passed just six weeks ago that cleared all remaining obstructions to moving forward with the project.”

The statement also included wording that the administration “has once again chosen to ignore existing law, and in this case needlessly hamstring the advancement of SHEP.”

The two senators noted the administration had earlier “promised to deliver economic development and economic opportunity to the state of Georgia through the authorization and funding of SHEP.”

In addition to Biden’s 2012 visit to the port, Obama included SHEP in his “We Can’t Wait” initiative in 2012. “It is now clear they would rather pay lip-service to Georgians than deliver on their promises. With clear opportunity in front of them and congressional direction to guide them, the decision to delay SHEP’s construction was solely the administration’s,” the senators stated.

“This project would support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year while generating billions in revenue. The Obama administration had the opportunity to fulfill their campaign promises of economic and job growth, and chose not to,” they continued.

Isakson and Chambliss asserted the Obama administration “wasted this opportunity” and broke promises made to Georgians. The two called on the administration “to allow this project to move forward and to get out of the way of the people of Georgia.”

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 — also known as the Omnibus spending bill — “gave clear direction to the administration to begin construction on SHEP and to request the necessary funding,” according to Chambliss spokeswoman Katherine Knight.

Coweta companies use the ports — bringing in products to sell and raw materials for manufacturing and also shipping finished products around the world from Savannah and its sister port in Brunswick.

“Coweta County companies — both large and small — have benefited from convenient access to Georgia's ports,” Greg Wright, president of the Coweta County Development Authority, said in an interview late last year.

“Georgia ports are one of the biggest drivers of our state’s economy and account for about one out of every 12 jobs in the state,” U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who lives in Coweta County, said in October.

The Panama Canal is being deepened, which will allow larger ships to pass through its locks. Only ports that are large enough to handle those ships will benefit economically from what happens in Panama.

Being prepared to benefit from the Panama expansion is a key for Georgia to “remain an integral part of our country’s shipping industry,” Westmoreland said.

According to a May 6 report on National Public Radio, Baltimore, Md. and Norfolk, Va. are currently the only ports on the eastern seaboard that currently are deep enough to accommodate the larger ships slated to come through the Panama Canal. The Georgia Ports Authority operates the ports in Brunswick and Savannah. SHEP received the last of all required federal and state regulatory approvals last year — following 14 years of study and review.

Georgia has approved $231 million toward the cost share for the project, which requires $400 million in federal funding.



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