Savannah Harbor Deepening

David Kyler, Executive Director
Center for a Sustainable Coast
AJC Guest Column March 9, 2012

Funding project is premature, fiscally irresponsible
Last month, despite major questions still being unresolved, Senator Isakson introduced an official request for more than $375 million in federal funds to be spent on the massive Savannah harbor deepening project.

Isakson's proposal, though ultimately removed, was added to a transportation bill introduced in the Senate. We believe this request was both premature and fiscally irresponsible.

The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for deepening the Savannah harbor isn't even completed, and there have been many justifiable challenges to the draft EIS, issued in November 2010.

For instance, doubts abound about expensive "mitigation measures" proposed to reduce damaging project impacts - including unproven methods for artificially injecting oxygen into the already impaired Savannah River so that fish and other wildlife can survive. Further destruction of important tidal freshwater wetlands in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge will also be caused by the deepening.

Moreover, until more is known about the comparative merits of deepening other harbors, there is no assurance that altering the Savannah channel and harbor will provide the maximum public benefit from this large expenditure of tax dollars.

Furthermore, contrary to many claims, the Corps of Engineers has NOT determined that this project will create ANY new permanent jobs. In fact, their lengthy analysis concludes that trends in the amount of port commerce at Savannah will be unchanged by the project.

The Corps says the only benefit of deepening will be more efficient movement of goods by accommodating larger ships, yet they have not analyzed the comparative advantages of deepening other southeastern harbors instead of Savannah's.

To gain the full benefit of mega-ships, major "hub" ports that service them must be capable of efficiently transferring commodities to smaller vessels that distribute goods to regional markets. Savannah's location, 38-miles upriver from the ocean, does not provide the accessibility needed for this essential hub function.

According to latest estimates, the project will cost a minimum of $629 million, including more than $250 million in state funds to be added to federal funds if they are awarded. Actual costs are likely to be considerably higher.

To best serve the public and reduce disputes over major federal and state expenditures, all such projects must be held to a higher standard. At the very least, funds must not be approved until (1) the environmental analysis is finalized AND (2) the public knows which projects will provide the maximum economic boost by sustaining U.S. jobs and commerce.

Unless we demand more rational and accountable methods for deciding how public funds are spent, the U.S. cannot hope to be competitive in the 21st century's global economy. Use of our tax dollars must no longer be dictated by states competing with one another in successive rounds of wasteful - and destructive - pork-barrel spending.

SA 1574. Mr. ISAKSON (for himself and Mr. CHAMBLISS) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill S. 1813, to reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:
On page 469, after line 22, add the following:
The project for harbor deepening, Savannah Harbor Expansion, Georgia, authorized by section 101(b)(9) of the Water Resources Development Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-53; 113 Stat. 279), is modified to authorize the Secretary of the Army to construct the project at a total cost of $629,000,000, with an estimated Federal cost of $377,400,000 and an estimated non-Federal cost of $251,600,000, pending a record of decision for the project.
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