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Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 2:09pm

Army Official Visits Port Of Savannah

The second-highest ranking U-S Army official is visiting the Georgia coast.

Under Secretary of Defense Joseph Westfal will be touring Ft. Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield on Thursday after visiting the Port of Savannah on Wednesday.

Westfal is the latest Obama administration official to voice support for a $652 million project to deepen the Savannah harbor.

Vice President Joe Biden has a Savannah visit scheduled for later this month.

And the President himself mentioned the plan in a recent television appearance.

But the project's long-awaited funding is still uncertain, a fact that Westfal acknowledged in dockside remarks.

"We hope that this year Congress will authorize a Water Resources Development bill that will include this project," Westfal said. "And I think because of this waiting for that to happen the Corps and the port have been able to get a lot of that early work done. So I think we're in good shape."

It's been 14 years since Congress approved the project with a lower budget.

Getting a higher budget approved is all that remains before construction can begin.

"The Congress and the President would not be making this investment if there wasn't a huge return," Westfal said. "And as you probably know, my boss, the Vice President, is going to be here soon. And that's an indication of how important this is to the vital economy of this nation."

Biden also plans to visit the Port of Charleston before heading to Panama.

The expansion of the Panama Canal is the reason for the harbor deepening.

"Today, Under Secretary of the Army Joseph Westfal has gotten a firsthand look at this extraordinary port operation and the urgent need to deepen the Savannah harbor," said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz. "For our nation's continued economic health and the success of the National Export Initiative, it is crucial that we move forward with the Savannah harbor expansion."

Westfal made brief remarks in the scorching afternoon heat of the working harbor.

He boarded a bus and was scheduled to visit Ft. Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.

At those locations, he was expected to address the return of soldiers from Afghanistan.

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