Deal: State will start work on ports project
by W. Winston Skinner
Gov. Nathan Deal sent an “I Dare You” message to Washington on Tuesday after the Obama administration’s budget was released with no money for deepening the port at Savannah. The port plays a vital role in Coweta County’s economy because local companies import materials and products that come through the port and/or ship finished products from the port to places all over the globe.
Pres. Barack Obama and Vice Pres. Joe Biden have both spoken of the need for the deepening of the harbor at Savannah, and Georgia officials were anticipating funding in the budget for the work.
The Panama Canal is being deepened, which will allow super-sized ships to come through the locks bearing freight for American ports. Only two American ports, however, those in Baltimore and Norfolk, are currently deep enough to handle the larger ships.
Deal said Tuesday that he is prepared for the state to move forward on its own. Deal said Georgia would use the money that has been put aside over a number of years to begin work so that the project does not fall further behind schedule.
Deal indicated the state will start work — using the $266 million the state has pledged to the project. The “dare” comes into play because the entire project has a $666 million price tag, and federal funding in the $400 million range had been anticipated in the current budget.
“Vice President Biden promised in the past year that we’d get this project done come ‘hell or high water,’ but it’s more accurate to say the administration is going to put us through the former to get to the latter,” Deal said.
“Earlier this year, President Obama signed into law — a law this budget recommendation ignores — a provision that allows Georgia to use the $266 million it has set aside to get the work started. That’s exactly what I intend to do,” Deal said.
“Under the federal law recently passed, we will begin dredging using state funds until the federal government lives up to its obligations in this partnership,” the governor stated.
The governor expressed frustration with the funding roadblock on a project that seemed to be ready to move. “The state … and its congressional delegation have worked diligently and patiently to see this project through to fruition,” he said.
Deal said the state has gotten all the required federal permits to begin the work. “We’ve dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T,’” Deal said. “We’ve already waited too long.”
“It is certainly disappointing that the president’s budget does not include funding for the port expansion. However, the budget submission is only one step in a very long process. Our focus will now shift to Congress and the appropriations process,” said Greg Wright, president of the Coweta County Development Authority.
Wright noted that U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Cowetan who represents Georgia’s Third Congressional District, and both of Georgia’s U.S. senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, have been strong supporters of the Savannah port upgrade.
“I know they will do everything in their power to ensure that the project moves forward as quickly as possible,” Wright said.
Westmoreland termed the budget proposal released this week “outrageous” — mentioning added spending but no funds for the ports project as pledged.
“The port is a crucial project for Georgia that is expected to create 11,554 jobs and continue to grow the state’s economy. Instead of investing in job-creating projects like the port, the president would rather waste $56 billion on additional stimulus spending, give more funding to the heavily scrutinized IRS — and raise taxes on the American people,” Westmoreland said.
“I applaud this move by Gov. Deal to move forward in the wake of the administration’s mind-boggling failure to fund what the president and vice president have said is a critical project for this nation,” Isakson said. Deal “has shown real leadership on this issue, and clearly understands the importance of beginning construction now,” Chambliss asserted.
Isakson termed Deal’s actions “swift and smart.” The state’s moving forward with the ports project “is the right thing to do for the Savannah Harbor, the right thing to do for our state and the right thing to do for our nation,” Isakson said.
Isakson said he hopes the Obama administration “will follow suit and see fit to back up its rhetoric, fulfill its promises and fund this worthy project.”
Chambliss also referred to Obama’s inclusion of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in his “We Can’t Wait” initiative in 2012. “When ‘we can’t wait’ turned into ‘we can’t fund,’ the governor was left with no other option,” Chambliss said.
A statement from the Chambliss press office described SHEP as “the state’s number one economic development project.”
Westmoreland said he is thankful for Deal’s commitment that “Georgia will go ahead with the project regardless of the president and vice president’s broken promise.” The state, Deal said, “stands ready to do its part.”