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Feb. 13 – Pres. Trump Only Puts in $49 Million of Prior Federal Commitment on Savannah Harbor Deepening

By Lou Phelps, Coastal Empire News

February 13, 2018 – Despite efforts by Georgia state officials and the Georgia Ports Authority, as well as the state’s Congressional delegation, President Donald Trump only requested $49 million in the two-year Federal Budget deal that passed both House of Congress on Monday to keep the government open, for SHEP.   This is the second time that Trump has rejected refilling the previous Federal government's annual funding commitment levels for the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project (SHEP.) 

The Georgia General Assembly is now considering adding another $35 million from state taxpayers to the State’s portion of the project to keep the project on track, in either the Governor’s 2019 budget or Amended 2018 budget. Both are now before them.  Georgia’s funds are enough money to keep the project moving forward, according to Georgia Ports officials and the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Previously, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project received just $50.06 million of the necessary $80 – $100 million needed to ensure an on-time completion in last year’s fiscal year 2018 budget request made by the President in May 2017.  The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, S.612, which was passed by the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate at the end of 2016 allows for a 75 percent federal share on harbor deepening projects up to 50 feet.  Dredging began to deepen the seaward half of the Savannah harbor, which extends 18.5 miles from Fort Pulaski into the Atlantic Ocean, in September 2015. The next step will be to award a contract for dredging of the inner harbor.

According to Congressman Carter’s office, they will now work to get increased funding in this Spring’s Army Corps ‘Work Plan,’ or increased funding out of the Infrastructure bill that was passed last Friday, getting Congress to agree to a higher figure than President Trump recommended.     

Congress Gov. Nathan Deal today released an immediate statement saying, “I am encouraged to see that SHEP was President Trump’s top priority when it comes to port investments,” said Deal. “The expansion of the Port of Savannah is the single most important infrastructure project not only for Georgia, but for the Southeast as a whole, and deepening it is necessary to allow larger ships like the Neo-Panamax to navigate through our ports more quickly and ensure that a greater volume of goods will be able to move through our state. On top of President Trump’s budget, we are looking forward to investment from the Army Corps of Engineers work plan to supplement this amount. Finally, I am grateful for members of Georgia’s Congressional delegation and call upon them to redouble their advocacy for federal funding during the appropriations process. To date, Georgia taxpayers have already invested the state’s full local share to SHEP, amounting to roughly $266 million, and the state’s FY 2019 budget includes an additional $35 million to ensure its completion by 2021. A timely completion of this effort will ensure resources are allocated efficiently and taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately, while making a major step forward for our national infrastructure as more, larger ships will be able to navigate through the Port of Savannah and more quickly move goods through our nation.”

Sen. Johnny Isakson, Sen. David Perdue, and Congressman Buddy Carter, all Republicans, immediately issued a joint statement to the Administration, slugged “Fulfill Commitment to Longstanding Savannah Harbor Expansion Project,” and invited President Trump, Vice President Pence to visit the Port of Savannah and what they term a “critical economic development project.”

The Georgia lawmakers said the President’s budget request, which was released on the same day that the administration introduced a new $1.5 trillion infrastructure package, shortchanges the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, known as SHEP. An estimated $100 million is needed in fiscal year 2019 to complete the project in the most cost-efficient and timely manner possible.

Isakson, Perdue and Carter also invited President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to visit the Port of Savannah at the earliest opportunity for a tour to better understand its value to American business.

“An infrastructure project with a return on investment like the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project should be an absolute priority for the federal government,” said Isakson. “We invite President Trump and Vice President Pence to the Port of Savannah to see firsthand the value this opportunity offers American businesses.”

“I appreciate the president’s commitment to improving the nation’s infrastructure, but we must also sufficiently fund this vital project to which the government has already committed itself,” Isakson continued. “If this project encounters further delays, its cost only increases while the benefits slip further into the future. We will not stop working to ensure that the federal government meets its commitments to this top infrastructure project, including in the omnibus funding bill expected next month.”

“The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country with the largest return on investment of any project the Army Corps of Engineers is currently managing,” said Perdue. “It is the fastest growing port in the country. We personally invite President Trump and Vice President Pence to the Port of Savannah to see firsthand the value this opportunity offers American businesses. We will not stop working to ensure that the federal government meets its multiple commitments to this top infrastructure project that already has an economic impact that reaches around the world.”

“I appreciate that the Trump administration has committed to emphasize investments in ongoing construction of projects with high economic returns,” said Carter. “With a return on investment of 7.3 to 1, SHEP should absolutely be at the top of the list. Unfortunately, the number we received today is not enough. It is promising that SHEP received the highest funding level of any deep draft navigation project in the budget request today, but we have a lot more work to do. One of the main reasons I supported the budget agreement in Congress last week is because it directs increased funding to infrastructure projects. This increase should absolutely be seen in the funding provided for SHEP. With increased infrastructure spending available, the federal government must meet its obligation to fund this project, just as the state of Georgia has already done. I hope President Trump and Vice President Pence will come to the Port of Savannah to see the benefits this top infrastructure project will have on the nation firsthand.

“Now, we will continue to fight to secure the funding needed to complete this project and prevent delays which only push these benefits further from reality,” Carter continued. “I will continue to fight for funding for SHEP from the administration, as well as here in Congress.”

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