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Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 10:44am

LaHood Pushes Savannah Port Project

President Obama's top transportation official is throwing his weight behind Georgia's effort to get more than $400 million federal dollars to deepen Savannah's harbor.

US Transportation Secretary Ray Hood says, he'll call a meeting on the project, which is waiting on Congressional funds.

LaHood made the promise Tuesday on his first visit to Savannah, touring the port with Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

The Secretary says, he can't write the check, but can move the project on politically.

He says, he'll summon officials, like those of the US Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia's Congressional delegation.

As to why Savannah's project merits funding over similar ones nationwide, LaHood says, Deal and Reed reached out.

"What I'm saying is that these guys called me, they came to see me, they talked to me about this port," LaHood says. "When people come and see me, we funded 13 ports. We haven't been ignoring ports."

The visit comes as the US Senate takes up a measure that could include some funding.

"We're going to get everybody around a table," LaHood says. "That's what I do best, get people around a table, get them talking, everybody knows what's at stake. And then we figure out where we go."

Prospects for Congressional appropriations have dimmed somewhat in the Recession as politicians have focused more on budget cutting.

Meanwhile, South Carolina's attorney general has agreed to represent the Savannah River Maritime Commission in its opposition to Georgia's plans to dredge the river channel shared with South Carolina.

A spokesman for Attorney General Alan Wilson said Tuesday, he would side with the legislatively-created commission.

Wilson's decision comes a day after the commission voted unanimously to declare invalid the water quality permit approved by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Commissioners say billions of dollars in port traffic are at stake.

DHEC initially denied the Corps' application in September, citing environmental concerns.

Last week, its board approved a compromise with Georgia officials and the Corps.


Associated Press contributed to this report.

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