Politics to blame for SHEP funding? - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Politics to blame for SHEP funding?

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) said hindsight is 20-20, wishing Georgia could go back and take on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) on its own without the help of the federal government.

This comes after promised federal funding was not allocated in the president's budget. 

On Wednesday, Congressman Kingston and other legislative officials met with the Army Corp of Engineers at an appropriations committee meeting in Washington, D.C.

Three lawmakers from Georgia are on that committee and they pressed the Corp for answers. Congressman Kingston said they got the runaround.

The Army Corp of Engineers office in Savannah recommended moving forward with the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project. They said legally, Georgia can start working on the project under legislation already passed by Congress.

But the Army Corp of Engineers in Washington, D.C. is overruling that local recommendation.

"The absurdity of the Corp of Engineers saying they have a legal opinion that's in favor of moving forward and them not going by their legal opinion," said Congressman Kingston.

When Congressman Kingston confronted the issue at the hearing this week, he said he didn't get straight answers.

"In the final analysis, it was determined that the scope changes," said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick.

Army Corp officials refused to sign off on any kind of progress until the Water Resources Development Act is passed, a bill that is still being negotiated in a congressional committee.

"It just appeared obvious to us that it was intentionally held up by the White House," said Congressman Kingston.  

But Gov. Nathan Deal is ready to move forward. The day after the president's budget came out, he announced that Georgia will use the money the state has already set aside to begin working on the project.

Congressman Kingston said that move is risky.

 "Well if the governor moves forward [and I think they have a right to move forward], I still think though there's a chance that there may be a glitch in terms of reimbursement from the federal government," said Kingston.  

In other words, the feds may retaliate by yanking the funding they had previously promised. Kingston said Washington is playing a political game that's tough to navigate.

It's a project that's been in the works for nearly 20 years now, at a cost of more than $600 million. Kingston wishes he knew then what he knows now.

"If Georgia had known the federal government was going to drag their feet for 15 years back in 1999, it would have been better for us to do this ourselves," said Congressman Kingston.

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