U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and David Perdue, R-Ga., along with U.S. Representative Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, R-Ga.-01, today demanded answers from the Obama administration on its failure to include adequate levels of critical funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget request to Congress, released earlier today.
According to the Army Corps of Engineers’ current construction plan, if the federal government fails to provide at least $80-$100 million a year to the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, known as SHEP, for fiscal years 2017-2020, the project cannot be completed on time and the resulting delays will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Obama administration’s budget request released today includes $42.7 million for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project for fiscal year 2017, which begins Oct. 1, 2016. The administration also added another $24.32 million for the project for the current fiscal year (fiscal year 2016), thanks in part to additional funds that Congress appropriated for the overall Corps’ budget.
In an October 2015 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, the Georgia congressional delegation explained why it is critical that the administration include at least $100 million a year in federal funding for SHEP so the project can stay on track, avoid cost overruns and prevent timing setbacks.
“I am extremely disappointed that the president is shortchanging a critical infrastructure project such as SHEP while instead spending $300 billion on new ‘green’ projects and levying a new oil tax on hardworking families,” Senator Isakson said. “The administration has inflicted irresponsible cuts on the Army Corps of Engineers’ overall budget.”
“Over the past 15 years, the Savannah Port has been the fastest-growing port in the country,” said Senator Perdue. “Completing the expansion of the harbor will have a dramatic economic impact not only on Georgia, but the entire country. This must remain a priority for the United States to compete globally and expand American made products into new markets.”
“It is unacceptable and frustrating that the Obama administration has decided to ignore its commitment to SHEP,” said Representative Carter. “Failing to provide adequate funding for this critical project will result in delays and threaten to increase the cost to taxpayers. This project is essential for jobs and economic growth in the First District, the Southeast, and the entire nation and this administration must realize this truth and prioritize the project. This has been a long fight which is clearly not over and I will do everything in my power to ensure the federal government meets the commitment of the state.”
The Obama administration's budget cuts the Army Corps of Engineers’ overall budget by 22 percent, including a 40 percent cut to the Corps’ construction account from the Congressionally-appropriated $1.86 billion to $1.1 billion. The vast majority of those downsized funds are going toward various conservation and environmental projections across the country rather than toward improving our country’s major infrastructure and transportation assets such as the Port of Savannah.
The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project was authorized in the Water Resources and Development Act of 1999 to deepen the Savannah River from its current 42-foot depth to as much as 48 feet. The project is being undertaken in anticipation of an expansion of the Panama Canal that will increase the maximum draft of vessels travelling to and from the East Coast from 39.5 feet to as much as 50 feet.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the harbor deepening project will bring $174 million in annual net benefits to the United States. For the Post-Panamax II vessels, the extra five feet of depth will allow for an additional 3,600 cargo containers in each transit, an increase of 78 percent.
The deepening project will cost approximately $706 million, including construction and environmental mitigation costs. The federal government has a role in funding this project because the U.S. Constitution gives authority over navigable waters.
Dredging for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project began on September 14, 2015.