Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday the $42.7 million in President Obama’s budget for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project falls short of the administration’s commitment to the state.
In speaking to the Effingham Day at the Capitol late last month, the governor said if the project did not get $90 million in the fiscal year 2017 budget, the deepening would be put further behind schedule.
“Georgia taxpayers have already invested, in advance, the state’s full local share to SHEP. As we've fulfilled our commitment, which amounts to roughly $266 million, we continue to look to the federal government to do the same,” said Deal. “While the president’s FY17 budget request includes an additional $42.7 million, it’s less than half of what is needed to ensure SHEP construction progresses steadily, resources are allocated efficiently and Georgia’s taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately. That request, which underfunds arguably the most critical dredging project in the country, appears to be the largest of any deep draft navigation projects in the president’s budget. This underscores yet again the need for greater investment by the federal government.”
Deal said all the authorizations needed to proceed have been acquired, and the first two contracts have been let. One of those was the bid to remove the CSS Georgia from the Savannah River.
“We can’t afford to lose any more time,” he said. “It was first authorized in 1999 and it took us to until a couple of years ago to get the last say-so to go ahead and proceed.
“I will be calling once again on our partners in the Congressional delegation, who have advocated tirelessly for SHEP funding. I’m confident they will do everything possible to prioritize funding for the Army Corps of Engineers’ SHEP construction to ensure the project stays on track for completion within five years. The federal government gave Georgia its word and must do more to uphold its obligations."
U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, along with U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, also criticized the lack of funding for the SHEP in the presidential budget proposal.
The Obama administration’s budget request released today includes $42.7 million for the Savanah 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.
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 2017-20, the project cannot be completed on time and the resulting delays will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
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,” 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 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 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 14 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 conversation and environmental projections across the country rather than toward improving our country’s major infrastructure and transportation assets such as the Port of Savannah.