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Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 12:09pm

Reed Positive In Savannah Talk

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed gave a pep talk Thursday to Savannah business leaders worried about the state's harbor deepening.

The project has languished because the White House and Congress haven't yet provided the bulk of federal funding.

Reed made port expansion the main topic at an address for about 700 guests at the Savannah Economic Development Authority's annual luncheon.

Despite the challenges the state has faced getting federal funding for the $652 million deepening project, the Mayor chose to focus on the positive.

He said President Obama, in private remarks made last weekend in Atlanta, spoke about the project, now deemed a national funding priority.

"When he talked about ports that needed to be deepened in the United States of America, on his own, he referenced the Port of Savannah," Reed says. "That means that we are breaking through."

Reed, a Democrat, has been this Republican state's "in" with the Democratic White House on the port issue.

He held up progress the project has made in the past three years as evidence of what can be done when politicians work in a bipartisan manner.

"Don't be concerned about it a bit," Reed says. "I'd say, look at what we have accomplished in three years. We have gotten 101 approvals across four different department of the United States government, including approval from the Army Corps of Engineers."

Reed said the project recently has made significant progress.

He said the government is advancing it in an "orderly fashion."

Port expansion was the Mayor's near-exclusive topic at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.

He briefly mentioned his desire for a Savannah-Atlanta high-speed rail link, which he has championed.

Addressing a reporter's question after his address, Reed said that financing the harbor deepening should be accomplished before tackling the more politically-fraught high-speed rail.

"I'm not trying to do two things at the same time," Reed said. "I am focused like a laser on making sure that we receive a significant appropriation that allows us to begin construction on our deepening."

While Reed and state Republicans agree on harbor deepening, they part ways in their enthusiasm for high-speed rail, which Reed calls an economic development tool and state Republicans call too costly.