Georgia ports officials are edging closer to beginning work on the long-planned expansion of the Port of Savannah. Dredging to deepen the port should begin by June, according to the chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority Board. Robert Jepson says he's confident work will be underway when he completes his term as chairman this summer.
US Army Under Secretary Joseph Westfal became the latest Obama administration official to voice support for a plan to deepen the port of Savannah yesterday. Westfal toured the port on a two-day trip to the the Georgia coast.
A water projects bill approved by the U.S. Senate contains a provision that would remove a bureaucratic obstacle to deepening the Savannah harbor. Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss both praised passage Wednesday of the new Water Resources Development Act, which still needs approval by the House. The bill would remove a spending cap of $459 million placed on the harbor deepening project in 1999. The Army Corps of Engineers now estimates the project will cost $652 million.
Conservation groups in two states say the Army Corps of Engineers needs a South Carolina pollution permit now, not later, for the $650 million deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel. Attorneys late Tuesday filed a response to a corps request that a federal judge dismiss their lawsuit against the project.
Tuesday is the deadline for public comments in a plan to deepen Savannah's harbor from 42 to 47 feet. Supporters and opponents of the project have been picking over the massive proposal and have different conclusions for federal officials who'll make a final yes-or-no decision later this year. The US Army Corps of Engineers spent 14 years studying plans to deepen the Savannah harbor.
When a public comment period closes June 5th on final plans to deepen Savannah's harbor, expect encouraging words from city officials. The city's water department previously raised concerns over the proposal's potential impact on the city's drinking water supply. But the US Army Corps of Engineers' final plan calls for building a 75 million gallon reservoir.
Endangered fish could swim farther up the Savannah River once the Savannah harbor deepening project gets started. US Army Corps of Engineers officials are proposing a $32 million "fishway" around an Augusta dam as part of the massive port expansion proposal. But aren't convinced the endangered shortnosed sturgeon would benefit from it.
About 350,000 Georgia workers owe their jobs in some way to the Georgia ports. A report released by the University of Georgia says, 1-in-12 Georgia jobs is port-dependent. Critics say, the figures are inflated, counting every Wal-Mart greeter and store clerk as port-dependent since they work at a company that uses the ports.
Charleston's mayor says, he believes environmentalists when it comes to Savannah's harbor deepening. South Carolina officials recently have taken up an ecological argument against it. Georgians suspect the opposition really is about protecting of Charleston from competition. But, Mayor Joseph Riley says, the concerns are honest.
Governor Nathan Deal visited three cities Tuesday in a statewide tour to sign local bills and talk about the budget. At Augusta's Georgia Health Sciences University, Deal highlighted funding for 400 new residency slots at hospitals statewide. At the Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah, he focused on $47 million in the state budget for Savannah harbor expansion.