The president’s civil works budget announcing $49 million for Savannah’s Harbor Expansion project is good news, port officials said.
“It’s very good news,” Jamie McCurry, chief administrative officer for the ports said. “We are glad to see Savannah given the highest priority based on dollars of any expansion projects.”
The civil works budget of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers includes $49 million for fiscal year 2019 for SHEP.
The Corps’ 2019 budget also includes $27 million for maintenance, $7.3 million for operations and $10.5 million for disposal of dredged materials in Georgia and South Carolina.
The harbor expansion project was allocated $50 million in President Trump’s budget for fiscal year 2018. Due to Congress’ use of continuing resolutions, those funds have yet to be appropriated. In fiscal year 2017, the project received about $45 million from President Barack Obama’s budget plan.
Once the omnibus bill is passed in March, appropriations can move forward, officials with Georgia Sen. David Perdue’s office said. An omnibus spending bill allows appropriations bills to be combined into one bill that can be passed with one vote in each legislative house.
McCurry said the FY 2018 and FY2019 funding will help towards the $88-$100 million needed each year for the project.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-1) said he will keep fighting for the needed funding of SHEP.
“We are certainly thankful for the $49 million,” Carter said. “We all know we need more money to avoid any interruptions in this project. That’s our goal — not to have any interruptions.”
Carter also said $10 billion in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, approved by Congress on Feb. 9, for infrastructure could possibly include some money for deepening the harbor.
“I spoke with Elaine Chao (Secretary of the Department of Transportation),” Carter said. “I asked if any of (these funds) could be used for deep water harbors and she said ‘yes’.”
McCurry said port officials are grateful for all the work done by elected officials for SHEP.
“We are grateful to the Georgia delegation and to Governor Nathan Deal,” McCurry said.
The state has contributed about $266 million for the project and the 2019 budget includes $35 million more, according to Deal.
“A timely completion of this effort will ensure resources are allocated efficiently and taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately, while making a major step forward for our national infrastructure as more, larger ships will be able to navigate through the Port of Savannah and more quickly move goods through our nation,” Deal said.
Georgia Rep. Bill Hitchens of Rincon is also aiding in the push for the port funds.
Hitchens has introduced a state House resolution urging the federal government provide its portion of the SHEP funding.
H.R. 1076 passed the Economic Development &Tourism committee in the legislature on Monday.
A Corps of Engineers economic impact study found the Savannah project to have the greatest benefit for the nation of any deepening project in the Southeastern U.S. According to the study, the Savannah Harbor deepening will return $7.30 for every dollar spent on construction. The Corps estimates the net benefit of transportation savings for shippers and consumers at $282 million per year. The expected total savings to the nation over the course of 50 years is $14.1 billion.
Deal stressed the importance of SHEP.
“I am encouraged to see that SHEP was President Trump’s top priority when it comes to port investments,” said Deal. “The expansion of the Port of Savannah is the single most important infrastructure project not only for Georgia, but for the Southeast as a whole…”
SHEP began in 2015 and will deepen the harbor from its current 42 feet to 47 feet. The greater depth will allow large ships that are coming through the Panama Canal. Some of these Neo-Panamax ships come to Savannah now, but they are not loaded to capacity.
Savannah’s outer harbor dredging will be finished in March, bringing SHEP to 50 percent completion. Deepening the inner harbor should be complete by late 2021.
Sen. Perdue was traveling to Washington, D.C. for an immigration press conference and was unavailable for comment.