A bill introduced this week in Congress had Georgia port officials feeling confident at its annual State of the Ports luncheon Thursday. That’s because the legislation would nix a 1999 spending cap on the Savannah Harbor deepening project.
State officials say this should be the last step before Georgia receives more than $600 million in matching federal funds for the project.
Curtis Foltz heads the ports authority. Speaking at the luncheon, he said the House bill is a milestone in the arc of the project, even if it doesn't completely resolve the issue.
The bill has, he said, "some encouraging language that would resolve our spending limit issue. That would be the final green light, allowing [the Army Corps of Engineers] to move forward with contracts, basically."
He added, "It still has to be debated and go to the House floor for a vote but some encouraging news yesterday.”
The project would allow the port to accommodate larger ships that will be coming from the Panama Canal starting in 2015.
Steve Green is on the ports authority’s board. Speaking earlier this week, he said officials are cautiously optimistic for several reasons. He said Vice President Joe Biden will be visiting Monday, and other federal officials have also been stopping by.
“We had the undersecretary of the Army at the port last week," he said. "So we’re confident that the federal money will be in the budget – in the president’s budget – in significant amounts."
Widening the harbor will allow the port to accommodate larger ships that will come from the Panama Canal starting in 2015.
The ports authority announced record results for fiscal 2013 at the luncheon Thursday. Georgia's ports handled a record 27 million tons of cargo in fiscal 2013, up 2 percent from the year before.The organization also said businesses leased or developed more than one million square feet of distribution center space.
With strong growth over a wide array of segments, port officials said the economic climate is finally improving.
Congress could vote on the bill lifting the spending cap as early as next month. A similar bill has already passed the U.S. Senate.