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Sept 20 - Gov. Deal Talks Up Port Expansion at Agribusiness Conference

Category: Agribusiness

By Clark Byron, Senior Business Contributor

September 20, 2013 - Governor Nathan Deal spoke to a packed room yesterday, the opening day of the International Agribusiness Conference and Expo (IACE) at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center. Present in the audience were Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson and Georgia State Senator Buddy Carter (R-1). “Georgia is extremely fortunate to be home to the Port of Savannah, the fastest-growing port in the U.S.,” said Gov. Nathan Deal. “We have trucks and trains from all over the state that can transport the produce and products of Georgia farmers to the port. This conference will provide key information to help them discover export opportunities, grow their farming businesses and tap into a global market.”

Deal, who has just returned from a trip to the Panama Canal said that the Panama Canal project is running a bit behind schedule but that is a good thing because the Port of Savannah deepening project is also lagging behind the anticipated progress. “The Panama Canal will be celebrating next year, the 100thanniversary of the original Panama Canal,” he said. “It is in remarkably good shape but it cannot accommodate those larger Super Post-Panamax Vessels. "These vessels that are going to be coming through the Panama Canal are going to be huge.” The Governor went on to say that Georgia is purposed on being able to deepen the harbor and the channel leading to the Savannah port. He said Panama Canal officials told him they anticipate the re-worked canal to be operational by the mid-2015.

Deal said he was given a visual analogy of how large these new vessels are and the size of the locks that rise up a portion of the canal will have to be. “They said if you took the Eifel Tower and laid it on its side, that’s how long [some 1,063 feet] the lock will have to be in order to accommodate one of those vessels,” said Deal. “It’s a huge project for them - it’s a huge project that will impact us dramatically here in Georgia, and we can’t just stand idly by and I don’t intend to stand idly by.”

The expected return on investment on the harbor deepening, Deal said, is about $5.50 for every dollar you invest on the expansion. “That’s just a good investment for all of Georgia,” said Deal. However, in a press conference following his speech the Governor said he was not able to estimate how many of these mammoth ships are expected to frequent the Port of Savannah.

At present, the state has $231 million with which to begin the deepening task. The construction budget calls for another $420 million in federal funds. That’s not a done deal yet. “We are making progress on the provisions that we have to achieve, in fact, sometime back, we received what was called the Record of Decision that was signed off by all of the federal agencies that have a say-so in this project,” he said. “Within the month, or next month, we will have the last administrative hurdle overcome, and that is a provision is what is known as the WRRDA bill (Water Resources Reform and Development Act) that has all of the major work projects throughout the United States.” Congress is expected to vote on that bill on or about October 7.

“More than 40 percent of the population of the United States relies on the Port of Savannah as a port of import or export of products that affect their lives or affect their business,” said Deal. “Of course, agriculture, being the number one industry in the State of Georgia, is widely connected to the port. Georgia’s oldest and largest industry being agriculture has a $71.1 billion-dollar impact on Georgia every year. One out of every seven Georgians works in agriculture, forestry or some related field, and two-thirds of our state’s counties has agriculture as one of its top two industries. We must make sure that we maintain this growth factor because it is essential to the growth factor in our state.”

On July 10 of this year, Deal signed a memorandum of understanding with the Georgia Port Authority and Cordele Intermodal Services that would ensure a direct 200 mile rail route to the Port of Savannah from the inland port of Cordele. “The direct rail route will serve not only southwest Georgia but also south Alabama and parts of the Florida Panhandle, giving them direct rail access to the Port of Savannah,” Deal said.


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