Ga. lawmakers tour Savannah Port

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Federal approval and funding of harbor expansion in Savannah may still be pending, but state leaders want it started as soon as possible.

That consensus was clear from funding approved during the recent session and from comments by key lawmakers touring the terminals on Thursday.

Georgia lawmakers, who are part of the Economic Development Committee, ditched their jackets and put on hardhats to get a bird's eye view of the Savannah Port.

"You can talk about it all day long. You can pass legislation all the time, it's even in the budget. Everybody needs to see that has an impact what the Georgia Ports is doing for our state," said Republican Rep. Ron Stephens, chairman of the Economic Development Committee.

"I didn't realize how huge it was. By coming here today, it has a bigger impact by seeing everything that is going on here," said Democratic Rep. Mack Jackson, of Summerville.

On Tuesday, the Georgia House backed the Senate in pushing for federal dollars to help deepen the Savannah River and harbor to 48 feet to help boost Georgia's economy, but many hurdles remain.

"We funded a portion of federal transportation program. We have put our money up front. We are waiting for the feds to do their part. That is the hold up right now," Stephens said.

This has many of these lawmakers on edge because widening of the ports will have a statewide impact.

"We are the No. 1 poultry producing county in the U.S. and the Savannah ports are important to us. Most people in our region don't realize how reliant we are on our Savannah port," said Republican Rep. Butch Miller, of Gainesville.

"This port is very important to us. We are looking forward to the widening because of our trucking industry and our Kaolin industry in Sandersville," Jackson said.

Lawmakers also discussed the impact the dredging would have on the future of Georgia's economy.

"The panamax ships are coming in 2014 - no later than 2015. The Panamax expansion is behind schedule. We have to be ready, when those ships want to come. ... In addition, to cruise ship lines that are trying to move here. This river important to everyone in south," Stephens said.

They also toured Gulfstream Aerospace to examine the effects of tax incentives the legislature recently approved for the ports and for Chatham County's largest manufacturer.

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