Why Savannah port backers are optimistic about getting $90 million from feds this year

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Dolphins jump in front of a Paramount cargo ship as the vessel approaches the mouth of the Savannah River in February 2012. Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com
021512 Savannah, GA: Dolphins jump in front of the Paramount cargo ship as the ship approaches the mouth of the Savannah River Wednesday February 15, 2012. I was riding in a boat with the Savannah Port Authority for a story about the need to deepen the port. Soon after this photo was taken our small boat pulled up beside the Paramount and I climbed aboard the moving ship. A very cool experience. Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com

Dolphins jump in front of the Paramount cargo ship as the ship approaches the mouth of the Savannah River in 2012. Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com

WASHINGTON — Georgia lawmakers fumed when the Obama administration in February proposed giving the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project roughly half of what proponents said was needed to keep construction work on track. And at first glance a new government spending bill sticks to that level of funding requested by the White House: $42.7 million.

But boosters of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, known as SHEP, say they’re bullish about getting the full $90 million requested by Gov. Nathan Deal this year. That’s due to some accounting that’s not so obvious upon first glance.

Lawmakers largely can’t set aside money on their own for specific projects because of the federal earmark ban. That means Congress can’t do much to change the administration’s initial $42.7 million request for SHEP.

They can, however, shape some more general accounts at agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers, which doles out funding for water projects like SHEP, as long as they don’t specify which individual projects should get the funding. For example, Congress can still direct federal agencies to prioritize certain types of projects when the administration picks which ones to fund.

That’s what encouraged Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and the Georgia Ports Authority when they saw the Senate’s draft bill for the Army Corps this week.

“The language is written in such a way that’s very helpful for Georgia,” Isakson said in an interview Friday.

Read more about how SHEP funding is shaping up on Capitol Hill here.

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