Gov. Deal: Wash­ing­ton must ‘step up’ its share of fund­ing for Sa­van­nah har­bor

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - BUSINESS - BY RUSS BYNUM

SA­VAN­NAH, Ga. — Gov. Nathan Deal said Thurs­day that Wash­ing­ton needs to “step up” with more money to deepen the ship­ping chan­nel to the Port of Sa­van­nah, where larger ships ar­riv­ing through an ex­panded Panama Canal have pushed cargo vol­umes to record highs.

The Army Corps of En­gi­neers be­gan dredg­ing 39 miles of the Sa­van­nah River be­tween the port and the At­lantic Ocean two years ago us­ing mostly state funds. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­quested $50 mil­lion to­ward the $973 mil­lion project in his lat­est pro­posed bud­get, but Ge­or­gia of­fi­cials say that’s about half the amount needed to stay on sched­ule.

“We need the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to step up and do their share of what it takes to deepen our har­bor,” Deal told about 1,400 peo­ple as he in­tro­duced the Ge­or­gia Ports Au­thor­ity’s chief ex­ec­u­tive to give his an­nual State of the Ports speech. Deal said the state wants “more money from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to go ahead and al­low us to com­plete this project in a timely fash­ion.”

Deal’s re­newed plea for fed­eral dol­lars — he made sim­i­lar state­ments when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was in of­fice — comes af­ter a year of ex­plo­sive growth at the Port of Sa­van­nah, the na­tion’s fourth-busiest sea­port for me­tal con­tain­ers used to ship re­tail goods from con­sumer elec­tron­ics to frozen chick­ens.

Sa­van­nah han­dled a record 3.85 mil­lion con­tainer units in the fis­cal year that ended June 30, for an in­crease of 6.7 per­cent over fis­cal 2016.

Griff Lynch, the port au­thor­ity’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, cred­ited gi­ant cargo ships ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing up to 14,000 con­tainer units now trav­el­ing through the Panama Canal since it fin­ished a ma­jor ex­pan­sion last year.

Lynch pre­dicted in his speech the Sa­van­nah port could see 4 mil­lion con­tainer units by the end of fis­cal 2018. But Sa­van­nah’s growth will be held some­what in check with­out deeper wa­ter be­cause the gi­ant ships cur­rently can’t nav­i­gate the river with full cargo loads.

“We’re han­dling these ves­sels and it’s great, but we’re not able to fully load them,” Lynch said.

Ge­or­gia of­fi­cials hope to fin­ish the Sa­van­nah har­bor ex­pan­sion in 2021. But that de­pends on fund­ing from Wash­ing­ton. Ge­or­gia paid most of its share — $266 mil­lion from state tax­pay­ers — up­front to get dredg­ing started in 2015. That money has es­sen­tially been spent.

Trump’s re­quest of $50 mil­lion for the Sa­van­nah project is about 17 per­cent more than Obama se­cured in his last bud­get. But Lynch said he fears de­lays start­ing in 2019 if the project doesn’t see a sub­stan­tial fund­ing in­crease.

“We’re go­ing to need $80 to $100 mil­lion (an­nu­ally) or we’re go­ing to start hav­ing short­falls,” Lynch said.

Sa­van­nah is far from the only U.S. sea­port seek­ing money to make room for big­ger ships.

Trump’s pro­posed bud­get also in­cluded a re­quest for $58 mil­lion to deepen the Bos­ton har­bor. And the Army Corps plans to spend $56 mil­lion in dis­cre­tionary funds on har­bor-dredg­ing projects for five ports in­clud­ing Charleston, South Carolina, and Jack­sonville, Florida.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ge­or­gia Gov. Nathan Deal pro­vides open­ing com­ments for the Sa­van­nah State of the Port event Thurs­day in Sa­van­nah, Ga.

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