Friday, November 22, 2013

Reed returns from Panama Canal visit with renewed focus on Savannah Port expansion

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Georgia's efforts to land federal cash for the Savannah Port's expansion are "headed toward the end zone," Mayor Kasim Reed said.

Earlier this week, Reed toured the Panama Canal as part of a U.S. delegation that included Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia; and other elected officials. They inspected ongoing construction that will enlarge the canal and allow bigger ships to pass through its locks - and possibly head to Georgia's coast.

The Savannah Port would need to be deepened to let those larger vessels dock at its piers - a project that would cost an estimated $662 million. Reed says the port is already responsible for 100,000 metro Atlanta jobs and stands as one of the region's largest economic generators behind Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The football, in this case, is a bill that would remove a cap on federal spending for the Savannah Port as well as other river- and harbor-related projects. A conference committee this week started to reconcile the U.S. House and Senate versions of H.R. 3080 - also known as the Water Resources Development Act of 2013.

Both the U.S. House and Senate versions would lift the spending cap, but Reed says the bipartisan Savannah team will "remain vigilant" to be kept in the bill.

"It's all a matter of keeping the pressure on," Isakson told the AJC.

Aside from the federal bill's passage, Reed said the state is hoping to land up to $400 million in federal cash to help deepen the Savannah Port. Georgia has decked its team in both blue and red. While Reed works his White House and Democratic connections, Gov. Nathan Deal has pledged approximately $231 million of Georgia money in a Republican-controlled state.

"It is absolutely urgent that we get the Savannah Port deepened as quickly as we can possibly get it done," Reed said.

Reed thinks H.R. 3080's final version may come up for a final Congressional vote by the year's end. The Panama Canal's expansion is scheduled to be finished in 2015.

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