Savannah port backers look to federal budget talks for dredging funds


As the work to deepen the Savannah River channel officially reached its midpoint on Wednesday, state officials looked ahead to the next round of federal spending talks, which they hope will deliver the funds to ensure the project remains on schedule.

Completion of the outer harbor dredging marked a milestone for what is arguably Georgia’s biggest ongoing economic development project. But the project to deepen the river channel to 47 feet from 42 feet is about to enter a critical new phase with the inner harbor.

The Trump administration in its latest budget request called on Congress to set aside $49 million for dredging work for the 2019 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. But that’s roughly half of what boosters say they need to keep the project on track.

Georgia lawmakers say they are pushing for more funding, but the earmark ban effectively ties Congress’ hands when it comes to setting aside money for specific projects such as Savannah. Congress could approve more money in the weeks ahead for a broader Army Corps of Engineers construction account, but it’s bureaucrats who would have the ultimate discretion for whether that money goes to the project.

The feds passed on giving the project additional dollars last year.

Griff Lynch, the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said past money approved by Congress — and funds already allocated by state lawmakers — will keep the project on its 2021 completion timeline for now. But there is a risk the schedule could slip if money federal dollars can’t be found.

“It’s a risk on the timeline and in order to stay ahead we have to have the money,” he said.

Lynch and ports chairman Jimmy Allgood credited Gov. Nathan Deal and state lawmakers for their commitments to the project, and also hailed the work of Georgia’s congressional delegation to push for more funding.

Lynch said Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, have been instrumental links to the White House, and Georgians within the Trump Administration remain key allies. The corps, they said, has done phenomenal work to get the project to where it is now.

Despite the optimism, Trump’s budget proposals for deepening the harbor have proven to be disappointments for the port so far, after it faced similar funding struggles under the Obama administration. After last month’s 2019 budget request included a lower-than-expected proposal for SHEP, Carter, Perdue and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson invited Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to tour the facility to “better understand its value to American business.”

Lynch said Trump’s 2019 budget request sent a signal the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, or SHEP as it’s known, remains a national priority.

This spring, Congress is expected to finalize plans for fiscal 2018. That spending deal is expected to provide the port about $50 million, and lawmakers could add more to the Army Corps’ construction accounts in hopes money trickles down to Savannah.

The nearly $1 billion project will allow larger freighters to ply the waters of the Savannah River with more flexibility and with fuller loads, making shipping through the port more efficient. An Army Corps study has found the economic benefits to businesses and consumers of the deepening the river channel will more than outweigh the cost.

“The Port of Savannah is already the second-busiest port in the nation for exports and the timely completion of this project will be a major step forward for our nation’s infrastructure,” Deal said in a news release. Deal’s office included an additional $35 million in its fiscal 2018 budget to keep the project moving.

Savannah posted a record of nearly 4 million twenty-foot-equivalent units of cargo or TEUs in fiscal 2017. And exports — a Trump priority — grew by 7 percent in the last calendar year, ports officials said.

“The things we bring in don’t weigh as much as what we’re sending out,” Allgood said, meaning the deepening is vital to continued export growth.

At a conference in early February, Lynch said the ports authority is forming plans for a 10-year, $2.3 billion expansion that would more than double the container capacity in Savannah.

Port expansions would be paid for by operations not outlays by taxpayers.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Business

All-new Chevy SUV, the Blazer, debuts in Atlanta
All-new Chevy SUV, the Blazer, debuts in Atlanta

Chevrolet unveiled the newest vehicle in its lineup, the Blazer, in Atlanta Thursday night, reviving the defunct SUV with a smaller version. Alan Batey, General Motors’ North American president, made the announcement at an event at The Fairmont in Atlanta, showing off a model of the mid-size SUV, which features a slimmer, more athletic front...
UPS, Teamsters reach tentative labor agreement
UPS, Teamsters reach tentative labor agreement

UPS and the Teamsters union have reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year labor deal, which if approved could alleviate the risk of a strike. The settlement in principle of the national master UPS agreement is subject to approval by UPS local unions. Yet to be resolved are supplemental agreements, according to the Teamsters. The final deal...
Wes Moss: How to head into retirement with no mortgage
Wes Moss: How to head into retirement with no mortgage

“Should we pay off our mortgage before we retire?” This is among the most common questions I get from clients and “Money Matters” listeners (tune in from 9-11 a.m. Sundays on WSB radio (News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB). I most recently heard it from a couple who are on their final approach for retirement. Let’s call them Rose...
Chevrolet announces all-new Chevy Blazer in Atlanta
Chevrolet announces all-new Chevy Blazer in Atlanta

Chevrolet unveiled the newest vehicle in its lineup, the Chevy Blazer, in Atlanta Thursday night, reviving the discontinued Trailblazer with a smaller version of the utility vehicle. Alan Batey, General Motors’ North American president, made the announcement at an event at The Fairmont in Atlanta, showing off a model of the mid-sized SUV, which...
Mayor Kasim Reed aides got late term promotions to Hartsfield-Jackson
Mayor Kasim Reed aides got late term promotions to Hartsfield-Jackson

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration transferred two employees from City Hall to high-paying positions at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in the final days of Reed’s term. Both worked closely with Reed, one as an executive assistant to the mayor and the other as a scheduling coordinator, and both were promoted to the...
More Stories