SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) – Just past its midway mark, the Savannah Harbor expansion project is set to get $49 million in federal funds from the spending package signed Friday by President Donald Trump. Georgia officials say they need twice that, however, to finish on schedule in 2021.
Late last year when Trump unveiled his budget ask, the state’s congressional delegation warned in a letter to the White House that continued funding at $50 million a year “is estimated to delay the project for five years and cost an additional $56 million due to inflation while generating an irretrievable, cumulative loss of $1.4 billion in annual economic benefits.”
The importance of deepening the Savannah River channel from 42 feet to 47 feet cannot be understated, officials say.
Next to Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York-New Jersey, the Port of Savannah is the nation’s fourth busiest and the fastest-growing container port in the United States.
The $84.1 billion in sales generated by the port represent 9.6 percent of Georgia’s total sales, and a study by the Corps of Engineers predicted that the expansion project would be a boon for both the state and the country.
As quoted in a press release last month from Governor Nathan Deal, the Corps found that deepening of the harbor will shave shippers and consumers $282 million in transportation costs per year.
“According to the Corps’ benefit-to-cost ratio, each dollar spent on construction will yield $7.30 in net benefits to the nation’s economy,” Deal added.
Deal also quoted an economic-impact study conducted by the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business as finding that the business conducted via Georgia’s ports generates $4.5 billion in federal taxes annually.
Officials have also noted that the Georgia Ports Authority creates over 369,000 jobs.
“We’re supportive of it, of course,” Angela Hendrix, a spokeswoman for the Savannah Economic Development Authority, said of the expansion project in a phone interview.
Edward Fulford, a spokesman for the Georgia Ports Authority, praised the project as well. “Expanding the Savannah Harbor is a vital link to the future of maritime trade for Georgia and the nation, providing the deeper water necessary to better accommodate today’s larger vessels,” Fulford said in an email.
Georgia has contributed most of the funding for the construction work to date, about $266 million. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the most the U.S. government has contributed in a single year is $42.7 million.
The newspaper also noted that Georgia could still see more federal dollars this year from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is set to get $2.1 billion for construction projects in the new spending bill, a 10 percent increase from 2017.
Working against Savannah, however, the Corps passed on a similar chance to give the project more funding last year.
From its current low-tide depth of 42 feet, the inner harbor channel will be expanded to 47 feet, 54 feet at high tide. The first half of the project meanwhile deepened the outer harbor to 49 feet at low tide, 56 feet at high tide.
In his press release last month, Gov. Deal noted that expanded cargo volumes will require an investment by the Georgia Port Authority of about $2 billion in new cranes and terminal infrastructure.