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WRRDA bill signing hailed as victory for harbor deepening

POSTED: June 13, 2014 12:56 a.m.

With President Obama’s signing Tuesday of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) is authorized to begin construction. 
“With today’s action, SHEP has officially received a green light,” said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz.

The next step for SHEP calls for Georgia to enter a Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, defining how the costs of the project estimated at $706 million will be shared between the state and federal government. Foltz said he expects to have a binding PPA within 90 days, allowing accelerated use of Georgia’s portion of the funding. These funds will be credited against the state’s ultimate cost share at the end of construction. 

"With the signing of WRRDA today, the last hurdle to SHEP construction, as defined by the president, has been cleared,” said U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah). “I encourage the Army Corps of Engineers to sign the Public Partnership Agreement and begin construction immediately."
Seeing the port deepening through to final authorization has been a top priority for GPA Board Chairman Robert Jepson during his two years leading the board. 
“The harbor deepening is recognized across Georgia as the state’s most important infrastructure project in terms of future economic development,” Jepson said. “Because Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly had the foresight to set aside $266 million toward construction, we will be able to start the project this year using state funds.” 
U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., also expressed their satisfaction with the WRRDA bill becoming law.

“After more than a decade and a half of bureaucratic set-backs, and with the overwhelming, bipartisan support from local, state and federal officials, we are thrilled to announce the Savannah Harbor Expansion Harbor has cleared its final legislative hurdle and will soon become a reality for Georgia, for the Southeast, and for the entire nation,” Isakson and Chambliss said in a joint statement. “This project is crucial for our region and will support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year while generating billions in revenue for the entire Southeast.”

H.R.3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, was signed into law following Senate passage on May 22. The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project was originally 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 47 feet.

SHEP has a cost-benefit ratio of 5.5 to 1. It is projected to have an annual net benefit to the nation of $174 million and would support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year.

 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. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, it will bring more than $115 million in annual economic benefit to the U.S., primarily through reducing costs associated with transportation.

“With today’s enactment of WRRDA, we have personally received confirmation from the administration that there is no longer any impediment to moving forward with the Savannah harbor project or to obtain federal funds down the road to support the project,” the senators said. “It is now imperative that the administration works expeditiously to finalize the Project Partnership Agreement with Georgia so construction can begin this year.”

Lower prices per container slot on Post-Panamax vessels will save U.S. companies moving goods through Savannah 20 to 40 percent on transportation. Port users can realize further savings on land transit because of the terminal’s adjacent network of distribution centers and its location 100 miles closer to Atlanta than any other port. 
“A deeper harbor will fully complement the landside infrastructure improvements that are currently under way to increase the Port of Savannah’s capacity and improve services throughout our maritime logistics network,” Foltz said. “Garden City Terminal now employs 25 of the largest ship-to-shore cranes on the East Coast, 116 rubber-tired gantry cranes, two on-terminal rail yards, and, soon, direct highway access from the port to Interstates 95 and 16.” 
Jepson also noted the GPA board’s recent $86.5 million purchase of four new Super Post-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes and 20 new rubber-tired gantry cranes (RTGs) – set to start arriving in 2016. The board has also budgeted $8 million to continue the transition of Garden City’s RTG fleet from diesel to electric power – a move that will help the GPA avoid the use of millions of gallons of diesel each year and the associated air emissions. 
Foltz said that at 3 million 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) per year, the Port of Savannah now moves four times the containers it handled when Congress initially authorized SHEP in 1999. He said improved efficiency will allow the GPA to more than double its annual throughput to 6.5 million TEUs without increasing the physical footprint of the 1,200-acre Garden City Terminal.   

"This project is the result of an open and collaborative process involving all interested stakeholders which received approval of multiple regulatory agencies,” Foltz said. “We would like to thank the administration, our elected officials throughout Georgia and Washington, Governor (Nathan) Deal, Senator Isakson, Senator Chambliss, Congressman Kingston and then entire Congressional delegation, and all of those who worked tirelessly to reach this critical milestone.” 

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