SAVANNAH — Georgia port officials pledged Monday to support a deeper shipping channel for rival seaport Charleston, S.C., while they also seek federal permission and funding to dredge the waterway to the Port of Savannah.
A resolution adopted by the Georgia Ports Authority's board says the neighboring states — and longtime competitors — have a mutal interest that "both the Savannah and Charleston harbor channels be deepened in order to accommodate the new generation of container ships."
Both are among East Coast port cities racing to dig deeper waterways in anticipation of massive cargo ships using an expanded Panama Canal after 2014.
Savannah wants $588 million to scoop 6 feet of mud and silt from its shipping channel, but officials are awaiting final approval from the federal government by the end of the year.
Charleston is seeking a federal study to determine if it can dredge to 50 feet, a project expected to cost $300 million but likely several years behind Savannah.
"We thought it was important to make it clear our support is not just for a deeper Savannah River," said Curtis Foltz, executive director of Georgia's ports. "Some of our customers that use our port also use the port in Charleston. For us, it's not about one or the other."
The Georgia resolution comes after South Carolina's port chief, along with Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, visited Washington last week to pitch dredging Charleston's harbor as cheaper and less environmentally damaging than deepening other Southern ports.
"We said we are the best value in deepening in the South Atlantic," Jim Newsome, CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, told reporters in Charleston after returning from the trip Friday night.
South Carolina ports spokesman Byron Miller said Monday his state is too busy trying to win deeper water for Charleston to worry about Savannah's project. He also said Georgia port officials didn't invite their South Carolina counterparts to join their resolution pledging cooperation.
Located about 100 miles apart on the Atlantic coast, Savannah and Charleston have long been competitors in overseas trade. Charleston had the nation's fourth-busiest port until 2007, when Savannah's port took its place.
When it comes to deepening their harbors, Savannah has one disadvantage — its Savannah River shipping channel is a shared border between Georgia and South Carolina. That means South Carolina gets some say in whether Savannah's project gets approved.
The Georgia resolution calling for cooperation between the ports wasn't completely one-sided. The Lowcountry Economic Alliance, an economic development group for Jasper and Beaufort counties in South Carolina, also signed onto the document.
In addition to being directly across the river from Savannah, the two communities have a stake in developing Jasper County land co-owned by both states into a third port. Georgia and South Carolina began studying the proposal years ago, and the resolution adopted Monday promises to keep supporting it.
"Our competitors are overseas, not across the river," said Kim Statler, a board member of the South Carolina alliance. "This resolution outlines a common understanding that the Savannah River is a critical component of that regional success."