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Buddy Carter leads efforts to get more funding for Savannah harbor deepening

  • The 300 foot dredge Alaska works to deepen the shipping channel into the Port of Savannah. Part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, dredging of the outer harbor off Tybee Island began in September, 2015, and is now more than 60-percent complete. (GPA file photo by Stephen B. Morton)

It’s going to take more federal money to keep the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project on time and on track, said Georgia’s congressional delegation in a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee. The letter warned that underfunding the massive civil works project could cost the country more than $1 billion.

Led by U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, the entire bipartisan delegation urged the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water to give a special priority to the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program, making additional funds available to keep the project on budget.

The Port of Savannah, where the much-delayed civil works initiative to deepen the Savannah River channel from 42 feet to 47 feet, is underway, was one of only two harbor deepening winners in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018, basically splitting the administration’s proposed $108 million with the Port of Boston.

While that allocation was appreciated, Carter said, it’s not enough.

“The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that without annual funding of $80 million to $100 million, the project cannot be completed on time, with the resulting delays costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars,” Carter said.

The letter, signed by every member of the delegation, noted that the budget request, both for SHEP and the overall Army Corps Construction Account, “is well below the minimum required to facilitate the international trade and domestic job growth that is key to restoring fiscal and economic health to the nation.”

By the numbers

According to the Corps of Engineers, Savannah’s deepening project has a more than 7:1 benefit-to-cost ratio, the highest of any deep-draft navigation project in the country, with an engineering and design plan that has been rigorously vetted by both the White House and Congress.

But without annual funding of between $80 million and $100 million, the Corps cannot maximize contract awards, adding significant costs and time to project completion, the letter states.

“If the rate of SHEP’s construction were to continue at the rate reflected in the FY 2018 request, the completion would be delayed by at least five years,” the letter states, adding that a partially completed channel deepening project provides zero benefits to the nation and a five-year delay, by Corps’ estimates, would add well over $100 million to the project’s construction costs.

“Combined with the multi-year loss of $282 million in annual economic benefits the completed project will provide, the total cost of under-funding SHEP is a staggering and unrecoverable loss of more than $1 billion.

“For that reason,” the letter continues, “we recommend that, in addition to supporting the SHEP budget request of $50 million, the Subcommittee include within those funds available under the Subcommittee’s Additional Funding account, no less than $100 million designated specifically for construction of deep-draft navigation projects nationwide.”

While the delegation has not yet received a formal response, Carter said the conversations are ongoing.

“I have had continued talks with the Army Corps of Engineers, Trump administration officials, and fellow members of Congress to reiterate the importance of this project and request the funding needed to keep it on track and I will continue these conversations and requests throughout the budget process until SHEP receives what it needs,” he said Tuesday.

“With an annual economic benefit to the nation of nearly $300 million once completed, we must do everything we can to make this a reality.”

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