Posted: 2:48 pm Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Democrats heave sigh of relief as Savannah Port dredging draws near 

By Greg Bluestein

That sigh of relief you hear isn’t just from Savannah leaders celebrating the impending $706 million deepening of their port. It’s also coming from Georgia Democrats wary that the White House’s handling of the project could hurt them in November.

Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com

The $706 million expansion of Savannah’s port will move forward after President Barack Obama signed legislation Tuesday that cleared the last political hurdle.

President Barack Obama this morning signed HR 3080 into law, clearing the last legislative hurdle to deepen Savannah’s harbor and waterway from 42 feet to 47 feet. The project has been in the works for more than a decade and seemed a certainty when Vice President Joe Biden visited Savannah last year and proclaimed it would happen “come hell or high water.”

Things got a little soggy in March, though, when the Obama Administration stunned many here by declaring the project not yet ready to go. Georgia leaders scrambled to make sure the project was on track, while the top Democrats on the ballot struggled to explain the seeming change of heart.

At the time, Jason Carter, who is challenging Gov. Nathan Deal, said the Republican incumbent’s “stick in the eye” approach to the White House may have hurt Georgia. And Michelle Nunn, the Democratic nominee for an open Senate seat, was pressed to explain her appearance with Biden at a fundraising event shortly before the administration’s move.

Republicans quickly ratcheted up the pressure on the White House, saying they simply wanted Obama to live up to his promise. Deal’s administration quietly explored options to float the full cost of the project with the hope of getting reimbursed by the federal government later.

Federal lawmakers, though, were able to hammer out an agreement last month, and Obama signed it into law with a brief ceremony this morning.

That led Carter’s campaign sent out a statement declaring that “cooler heads prevailed” and thank federal lawmakers for working across party lines to secure the deal.

“Our Congressional representatives did great work breaking through the partisan gridlock in Washington to hold the federal government accountable to its commitment to Georgia,” said Carter, who said other leaders had a “knee-jerk reaction” that could have threatened the project.

Nunn’s reaction echoed her post-partisan pitch. She painted the delays as part of a broader dysfunction and expressed hope that Washington doesn’t put any more roadblocks in the way.

“The fact that it took more than a decade to approve what everyone considers an essential project for our state and the future of our economy is an embarrassing testament to our broken political process,” she said.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, one of the key money-chasers for this project, said the deepening would help position Atlanta as the “logistics hub of the Western Hemisphere.” And Deal’s camp said that Georgia will be ready to begin work by the year’s end because of proactive leadership while others were advocating a “wait-and-see approach.”

“We’re all celebrating today,” said his office. “Now it’s time to get to the real work.”

It’s easy to see why the deepening has galvanized both parties like few other issues in Georgia. It’s widely acknowledged as Georgia’s single most crucial economic development project, and it’s aimed at helping the bustling port handle the larger ships that could soon be calling on the port after the Panama Canal’s widening is finished next year.

There’s another politician who is particularly happy with today’s signing. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah is locked in a bitter runoff for the GOP Senate nomination against businessman David Perdue, who is waging an anti-incumbent outsider campaign.

For Kingston, who sent out a release with a reminder that he’s been pushing the dredging since 1999, today’s signing provides a counterpoint: It takes insider contacts with key Washington figures to pull off a deal like this one.

21 comments
PoliticalOutsider
PoliticalOutsider

The Savannah Port and Hartsfield International are the two biggest economic engines this state has by far! And keeping them competitive is critical to Georgia's economic future. (However, it would be nice if our public education system was not gutted so we continue to flounder around #49 in the nation) The Ports and Hartsfield, along with some good leadership in the 1960's and ealry1970's, is what allowed Atlanta to become the south's economic superpower and not the train wreck that Birmingham became.

And how did Hartsfield and the Ports become what they are today? With a substantial amount of State funding, BUT a whole lot more of Federal Funds! So, I wonder what all of the "anti federal government" crowd thinks today? Which southern state's economy would you swap with over the past 40 years? For me, I'm dang happy to have those federal dollars and I'd take all we can get. Sending $9 million a day in Georgia Medicaid taxes to other states makes absolutely zero sense.

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

Although the headline only refers to Democrats, there was a line buried deep about the district Congressional Representative also being happy.  Oh yea, he is a Republican running for the U.S. Senate.  Somehow he needed "insider" contacts since 1999, even though Republican Bush was president for half that time.

" 'That led Carter’s campaign sent [sic] out a statement declaring that 'cooler heads prevailed' and thank federal lawmakers for working across party lines to secure the deal."  Classy statement.  This guy shows promise.

MoFaux
MoFaux

Personally, I think this was a mistake.Instead, I think it would have been wiser to improve the infrastructure (multi-modal access points) at one of our other ports that would have not required so much dredging (and caused far less environmental damage).  Savannah was really the only port that was even looked at in Georgia.  I have to wonder why.  The environmental hurdles would have been easier to jump over and we would have added more jobs, as well as beefing up another port/city.But alas, what’s done is done.Unfortunately, it does take a very long time to get these types of studies and projects done.

SmartAleck
SmartAleck

I have yet to see a SINGLE piece of signature legislation from Kingston in all of his years in Congress since 1993.  I mean.....what the hell has he been doing all that time....sitting on the back bench?


On Appropriations, he became the king of earmarks to exchange his vote for attaching pork spending for his district.  Isnt this the BS that has put us into $17Trillion in debt?  


Somebody...tell me where I am wrong? 

DS
DS

I guess it's more entertaining to make up dramatic stories about political intrigue and all that. But this project couldn't move forward until Congress reauthorized the WRRDA. It's been stuck in limbo for seven years. By law, it has to be reauthorized at current costs before it could proceed. All this other stuff about tying it to Medicaid expansion is nonsense.

The Obama administration wants this legislation too. It will promote jobs and boost the economy. And we want our ports ready to accommodate the new, larger Panamex container ships that will be used once the Panama Canal expansion is complete.

DirtyDawg
DirtyDawg

I'm still puzzled at the idea of rushing to expand the Port of Savannah that will mean still more, and bigger, cargo ships (hopefully not fuel tankers) passing within a stones-throw of Savannah's, tourist-friendly, riverfront walk and entertainment area at all hours of the day and night. I mean they have to navigate 'up-river' for miles to get to the port facilities, what could possibly go wrong...can you say Savannah Foods/Dixie Crystals Sugar plant explosion?

AuntieChrist
AuntieChrist

The Water Resources Act that authorizes the funding for the project, basically a no-brainer bill, was put on the calendar for Conference Committee negotiation on 9/11/13. It finally came out of committee in the last few weeks. More urgent matters kept congress from acting before now, i.e. a government shutdown, Thanksgiving recess, Winter Holiday recess, campaigns, and votes on Obamacare repeal. Nonetheless, I blame Obama for the hold up in funding.  It has been his fault all along.

"Rep. Jack Kingston ... has been working on the project since 1999."

Great job jackie-boy, using that vast power and influence that 23 years in Washington has accorded you, you pushed that bill right through in only 15 years. Now, that's just what Jawjans want, a white insurance salesman who doesn't act rashly, takes his time, and gets important bills passed every 15 years.

td1234
td1234

@PoliticalOutsider If we were not sending 30 plus % of our income to the Federal government each year to redistribute to those poor helpless people then we could afford to use some money to pay for our own port deepening. 

DS
DS

I understand your point. But Savannah has grown to become our country's second-busiest container port, and local business interests, and therefore politicians, want to keep it going. Not dredging would lose the New Panamax shipping business.

That's why local business leaders and politicians in Savannah, Boston, Jacksonville, etc were flipping out over Congress sitting on the WRRDA for so long. I'm sure there was some arm twisting involved.

honested
honested

@MoFaux 

You mention the methodology that the shippers (read Chinese) have selected.

One need look no further than the Port of Mariel (Havanna, Cuba) to see where they intend to stop the big ships (if they canal is ever finished), offload, reload and head back through the canal.

And all we in Georgia will get for it is permanent damage to the Savannah Rive Estuary and a 4 million dollar a year bill to feed and maintain the Speece Cones.

A fantastic example of short term, self-serving tactics!!

MaryPolleys
MaryPolleys

@SmartAleck

You are 100% correct in my opinion. Typical wheeling and dealing and letting the Executive Branch turn into an Imperial Presidency.

honested
honested

@SmartAleck 

Well, there is the Imbecilic Bus Lines he opened on Cumberland.

Well heeled Georgians who want to visit Plum Orchard are too danged important to walk!!

DS
DS

I think you're correct.

Kingston has been promoting legislation to keep the Air Force A-10 flying. The House Appropriations committee rejected this today.

Note that the Air Force doesn't even want to keep flying this plane. They want to ground it, which would save $3.5 billion over the next 5 years.

It seems that Kingston doesn't mind wasting taxpayer money on programs the military doesn't even want.

PoliticalOutsider
PoliticalOutsider

The reason we are the "United States" as opposed to the "50 Random Unrelated States"is because the Founding Fathers understood that we are a stronger, better nation collectively than apart. In order to have a United States, have a national defense, have a federal court system, have a federal highway system, and have a few other minor things that keep us safe and improve our quality of life, then there has to be some federal taxes.

Pea brain anti governments types like td1234, can't seem to understand the overwhelming majority of tax dollars goes to fund things like I named above and not to help, God forbid, the ." Poor helpless people" that he despises so. Hey td1234! Guess what, it's not all about you! Sometimes we actually need to help take care of those less fortunate. Jesus seemed to preach that and I make no apologies for trying to follow his teachings.

honested
honested

@DS 

DS,

There won't be any new post-panamax shipping business.

It makes no sense for Hanjin to build enough monster ships to cut the number of trips in half and go from port to port half empty.

Since the US doesn't have the Congressional cooperation necessary to develop one or two primary, multi-modal ports on the east coast, they Chinese built their own port (albeit shuffling the money through Brazil). 

MoFaux
MoFaux

@honested @MoFaux Point taken.  At least we would've spent money for some infrastructure upgrades to a smaller port though, if we'd gone somewhere other than Savannah.  This was a juggernaut that was unstoppable, with bipartisan support.

honested
honested

@DS 

The original design function for the A10 was air to tank warfare with the Soviets.

Since there are no longer Soviets and we are not likely to run into any massive tank warfare elsewhere, the 3.5 billion would be a criminal waste of money.

AuntieChrist
AuntieChrist

@DS Aww, what's a few billion here and there in the MIC. jack knows it's those kids getting free school lunches that is really fueling deficit spending.

td1234
td1234

@PoliticalOutsider Less fortantant yes. The widows, orphans and those with real disabilities. 


We do not have to take care of the able bodied that chose  to not work hard, get a education and marketable  job skill, and wants to be lazy.