The Savannah harbor-expansion project is on hold but supporters still have hope, Hinesville Rotary Club members learned Tuesday.
Leo Beckmann, manager of legislative affairs at the Georgia Ports Authority, spoke to the club about the harbor deepening project and the GPA during the club’s weekly lunch meeting at La Quinta Inn in Flemington.
Federal funding for the project must be approved by legislators in Washington, D.C., before the project can get under way, Beckmann said. Congress placed a $459 million spending cap on the harbor project 14 years ago and before the cap is removed, a bill permitting large water projects to proceed must first be passed, according to an Associated Press report.
Once begun, the project will take about four years to complete, he said. The Obama administration has recommended $1.28 million in the next fiscal year for the project, and Georgia has allocated $231 million for the harbor expansion.
“The estimated target date for completion is 2017,” Beckmann said.
He said the Obama administration is committed to the project, as evidenced by Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the Port of Savannah last month.
The GPA official said the expansion project initially was approved in 1999, but since the cost has increased over the years, funding must be re-approved. The estimated price tag for the harbor-deepening project is $652 million, Beckmann said. However, the completed project’s projected monetary benefits are $213 million annually for 50 years, he said.
“This is not a bridge to nowhere. This is a bridge to everywhere,” Beckmann said.
GPA officials want to deepen the harbor by about 6 feet to accommodate larger cargo vessels. Large cargo-vessel traffic is expected to increase once the Panama Canal’s expansion is finished next year, Beckmann said.
Currently, large vessels must sit at low tide and wait to sail at high tide, which wastes money and resources, the GPA official said.
“We want them to be able to come and go,” he said.
Beckmann also told Rotarians about the impact the GPA has on Georgia’s economy, saying the port authority generates more than 350,000 jobs.
The Port of Savannah consists of two deep-water terminals: the Garden City Terminal and the Ocean Terminal. The Garden City Terminal covers about 1,200 acres, and the Ocean Terminal covers 208 acres, Beckmann said.
In addition, the port’s proximity to Interstates 95 and 16 make the port easily accessible. Eighty percent of port cargo is moved by truck and 20 percent by rail, according to Beckmann. He said the Port of Savannah serves 44 percent of the Southeast’s population, in terms of delivering goods.
Beckmann said there several transportation projects in the works that will improve the port’s efficiency, including the Jimmy De-
Loach Parkway and a $5 million track upgrade by CSX.
Along with the economic impact of the port, it also serves as one of 15 strategic-deployment ports for the military, Beckmann said.