Mon., August 12, 2013 2:12pm (EDT)

Savannah Port Work Just A Vote Away
By Joshua Stewart
Updated: 11 months ago

ATLANTA  —  
When Congress returns to Washington from its August recess -- amid budget and debt-ceiling debates -- the House also must take up a bill that has big implications for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor: it would remove a cap on the cost of the project and allow work to begin. (Photo Courtesy of staxnet via Flickr.)
When Congress returns to Washington from its August recess -- amid budget and debt-ceiling debates -- the House also must take up a bill that has big implications for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor: it would remove a cap on the cost of the project and allow work to begin. (Photo Courtesy of staxnet via Flickr.)
Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is optimistic Congress will pass a massive water-projects bill this fall, which also would clear the way for the Savannah harbor deepening to proceed.

A small provision -- just a couple of lines tucked into the more than 400 pages of the new Water Resources Development Act -- eliminates the last bureaucratic hurdle to deepening the shipping channel to the Port of Savannah. With it gone, state and federal officials can begin working out a cost-sharing plan for the dredging.

“That’s the last box we’ve got to check out of a myriad of boxes we’ve had to check over 13 long years of environmental studies and things like that,” said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson last week. “We just can’t let the year pass without getting that done, and I’m cautiously optimistic the House is poised to do it.”

The House version is different from what the Senate approved this spring, so means lawmakers still would have to reconcile the disparities in a conference committee.

Isakson said he has talked to Speaker John Boehner about the measure’s prospects in the House. He said the key will be to make sure the bill isn’t held up by other issues.

“There’s no opposition to the Savannah harbor deepening, it’s not a political problem. But there are a lot of other things you’re in the same bill with and so any other problem that keeps the bill from passing keeps the [provision removing the spending cap] from being approved,” Isakson said. “So we’ve got to make sure we dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.”

Congress set a $459 million dollar spending cap for the harbor deepening in 1999. Estimates now peg the cost north of $650 million.

Like other East Coast seaports, Savannah is deepening its shipping channel to accommodate supersized cargo ships expected to arrive via an expanded Panama Canal in 2015.