Lawmakers to fight for harbor expansion

WASHINGTON (WTOC) – Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz spoke at a news conference Monday afternoon about the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project not being in the president's federal 2012 budget.

Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson and U.S. Reps. Jack Kingston and John Barrow vow to continue pushing for the project in Washington, according to a statement from Kingston's office.

President Barack Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 includes $600,000 for preconstruction engineering and design for the project, but lacks funding for construction.

"I will continue to fight, along with my Georgia colleagues, to fund the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project," said Chambliss in a statement. "This is a vitally important endeavor to ensure Savannah is able to accommodate global shipping traffic once the expansion of the Panama Canal is complete in 2014. This would bring more jobs and businesses not just to Georgia, but to the entire Southeast."

"The Port of Savannah supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state and contributes billions in revenue and state and local taxes each year. In addition, the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate commerce, and that certainly includes our navigational waterways and our ports," said Isakson in a statement. "It is critically important that we expand the harbor to ensure it continues to act as a gateway for business to Georgia and to the nation. I will work relentlessly alongside members of the Georgia delegation to protect and maintain the economic asset we have in the Port of Savannah."

"While we would've liked to see more, this shows the Administration is still in support of the project," said Kingston in a statement.  "Like us, they recognize that Savannah's harbor is a growing economic engine for our region and the nation as a whole.  Combining that with Governor Deal's enthusiastic support and our united bipartisan delegation, we've got great synergy to make this happen."

"I'm disappointed that the President's budget dedicated such little funding to such an important project.  Times are tough, and we understand that tough choices have to be made.  But this is an example of a project that will do real good right now," said Barrow in a statement.  "Countless studies have concluded that expanding the Savannah Harbor will help create new local jobs and stimulate real economic growth for our country.  As the budget process moves forward, we look forward to working with the President and members of both parties to see that this project receives the funding it rightly deserves."

"We had obviously hoped for a much greater show of support from the president for this important project, but the good news is that the president obviously supports moving forward since he included $600,000 to complete the application process," said Gov. Nathan Deal in a statement. "Georgia and the Southeast greatly need this project, and the federal government has a constitutional authority and responsibility to pay for waterways and ports. The state of Georgia has done its part. Our state taxpayers are a willing partner in this effort. Over the past two years, we have dedicated approximately $100 million in state money to put toward the deepening. Additionally, I have proposed $32 million for the Port in this year's budget. However, recognizing the national importance of this project, the federal government needs to carry its weight here to strengthen American competitiveness, and I will work closely with our congressional delegation to get the funding we need to move forward.

"President Obama has said repeatedly that he wants to create good jobs for Americans. Deepening the harbor is exactly the sort of public sector effort that will jump-start massive job creation in the private sector. A deeper port will bring in more ships and larger ships, creating efficiencies that will lower the costs of commerce and increase our standard of living in Georgia. Just as important, it'll create more jobs by making it easier to export Georgia peanuts, poultry, carpets, Kia autos, golf carts and the thousands of other products manufactured by Georgia businesses each day."

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. also issued a statement about federal funding for Charleston's harbor deepening project:

"While we are obviously very disappointed that the Administration failed to include funding in its budget for the Charleston Harbor deepening project, we will continue to work to achieve funding for this critical project.  Both Congressman Clyburn and Senator Graham, who have been strong supporters, have assured us that they will continue to forcefully advocate for funding for this project from our national government.

This project is of national interest.  It is of the highest importance to not only the Charleston region and to South Carolina, but to the economic competitiveness of the entire southeast.  An expanded and deepened Charleston Harbor is essential to the continued economic growth of the southeast region of the United States and is a key element in a globally competitive U.S. economy.  Charleston has been determined to be the most cost-effective harbor in our region to deepen to handle the Post-Panamax cargo ships of the future, and it makes good sense to spend limited federal dollars here.

I strongly urge the Administration and the Congress to resolve the issue of how these kinds of nationally significant projects are funded in an environment in which earmarks no longer play a role in federal appropriations.  In the past, these kinds of projects were funded almost exclusively through earmarks, but in an era when earmarks are not used, the question remains as to how the federal government will fund nationally significant infrastructure projects such as the Charleston Harbor deepening project.

I urge the President and our Congressional leaders to tackle this problem immediately."

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