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Portside: Although SHEP funds disappoint, maintenance dredging funds adequate

While there has been much ado about the inadequacy of federal funds to keep the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project on track, a “good news” dredging story has been all but forgotten.

For years, federal funding for the annual maintenance dredging and repairs needed to keep the Savannah harbor at optimum depths for shipping has fallen short, causing critical issues for the businesses and shippers who use our port.

This year, with the help of a proactive maritime community, Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Savannah, has secured the funding to keep the river channel operating at its proper depths, thus assuring commerce keeps moving.

“Rep. Carter worked with the Appropriations Committee in Congress to secure $23.53 million in the FY 17 budget to perform operations and maintenance at the Savannah harbor,” Carter spokeswoman Mary Carpenter said Thursday, adding that Carter has continued to work with the US Army Corps of Engineers to get another $15.72 million in its work plan for additional dredging and repairs.

“This totals $39.27 million for operations and maintenance in Savannah,” she said.

The local maritime community “couldn’t be happier” about that outcome, said Ralph Maggioni, director of the Savannah Maritime Association, one of a number of local groups that has worked on the maintenance issue with Carter.

Businesses, shippers, the Propeller Club, the Corps, and other interested stakeholders even pooled resources to fund a $40,000 study on the economic impact of failure to maintain the Port of Savannah at depths adequate for today’s ships.

“Everytime, we would get a critical piece of information, we’d send it to Rep. Carter, who would go to bat for us in Washington,” Maggioni said. “He really came through.”

Georgia Port director Griff Lynch agreed.

“We were pleased to hear that maintenance dredging for the Savannah River is fully funded in the President’s proposed budget. Its inclusion is a credit to the entire maritime community in Savannah, who pulled together in support of this,” he said.

If approved by Congress, these funds will cover work done during the upcoming federal fiscal year, which runs from October through September. Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, these funds will maintain the Savannah River channel at its authorized depth, including the portion recently dredged to 49 feet in the outer harbor.

“On behalf of the Georgia Ports Authority, I would like to thank our Washington delegation for their ongoing support and encourage Congress to approve the Corps of Engineers budget as proposed by the President,” he added.

Protecting the HMTF

Keeping the nation’s ports well-maintained shouldn’t be that hard.

Nearly 30 years ago, Congress established the Harbor Maintenance Tax Fund, or HMTF, imposing a levy of 0.125 percent on imports for the express purpose of funding harbor dredging to authorized depths. But, much like Social Security, the fund has been heavily “borrowed from” over the years to pay for other projects.

That seems to be changing now, as the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 set a deadline of 2025 for dedicating 100 percent of harbor tax revenues to maintenance dredging. Specifically, the new law ensures that the amount of harbor tax revenues dedicated to the HMTF will be at least 3 percent higher than the previous year’s allotment until 100 percent of the tax is dedicated to the HMTF in 2025.

“After working diligently for years with fellow members of Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers, I am thrilled the Savannah harbor has received adequate funding for operations and maintenance this year,” Carter said Thursday. “For too long, the harbor has had to do more with less, and I will continue the fight in Washington to ensure this funding continues.”

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Senior business reporter Mary Carr Mayle covers the ports for the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow. She can be reached at 912-652-0324 or at mary.mayle@savannahnow.com.

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Following are the ships expected to call on Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City and Ocean terminals this week. Schedules are supplied by GPA and are subject to change.

TERMINAL VESSEL ETA

GCT MAERSK WEYMOUTH Today

GCT BREVIK BRIDGE Today

GCT MSC CHARLESTON Today

GCT EVER LEGACY Today

GCT CMA CGM FLORIDA Today

GCT NYK ROMULUS Today

OT TIJUCA Today

GCT MAERSK DETROIT Saturday

GCT CMA CGM TANCREDI Saturday

GCT SEASPAN DALIAN Saturday

GCT NYK REMUS Saturday

GCT YM UNICORN Saturday

OT TOSCANA Saturday

GCT SPIRIT OF TOKYO Sunday

GCT MSC KALAMATA Sunday

GCT YORKTOWN EXPRESS Sunday

GCT MSC MAEVA Sunday

GCT MOL MAESTRO Sunday

OT NANDU ARROW Sunday

GCT ALM ZURICH Monday

GCT MAERSK KENSINGTON Monday

GCT YM UNISON Monday

GCT MAERSK SUZHOU Monday

GCT MSC KIM Monday

GCT MOL BEYOND Monday

GCT CMA CGM NERVAL Monday

GCT MSC VANESSA Monday

GCT ZIM ONTARIO Monday

GCT OOCL ASIA Monday

GCT SEAMAX NORWALK Monday

OT OBERON Monday

GCT MAERSK KAWASAKI Tuesday

GCT ZIM ALABAMA Tuesday

GCT MSC LISBON Tuesday

GCT MAERSK SELETAR Tuesday

GCT NEVZAT KALKAVAN Tuesday

GCT ERVING Tuesday

GCT PACON Wednesday

GCT HANNOVER BRIDGE Wednesday

GCT NYK ATLAS Thursday

GCT BUDAPEST BRIDGE Thursday

GCT NYK DENEB Thursday

GCT ZIM ROTTERDAM Thursday

GCT MOL EMPIRE Thursday

GCT MAERSK KOWLOON Thursday

OT BAHRI ABHA Thursday

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