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Kingston, Perdue promote deepening river to port

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POSTED: September 29, 2010 9:29 a.m.
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U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston

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Gov. Sonny Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., made brief appearances Monday afternoon at a joint news conference in Savannah to discuss financial investments and plans for deepening the Port of Savannah and its connection to the Panama Canal Expansion.
The project, expected to be completed by 2014, will cost an estimated $450 million over time, Kingston and Perdue said. It’s necessary, however, to keep the port competitive. The Panama Canal also will be ready for larger vessels in 2014, so ports on the East Coast must be able to accommodate the passing ships and their heavier cargo loads.
Georgia has socked away $150 million for the project “even in these difficult times” because of the economic importance of the port, the governor said.
Perdue thinks negotiations to deepen the Savannah River harbor should be finalized by next summer and that environmental impacts will be taken into consideration before a decision is made.
The governor and the congressman took questions from the press about funding the project.
“Fortunately, we’ve got some money put into a construction account already so it is considered an existing project rather than a new start,” Kingston said.
If Congress denies funding, it won’t impact the project because it was part of the port’s long-term budget goals, he said.
Still, with every dollar spent, 40 cents is borrowed, Kingston said. “We are going to have tight budgets in front of us for the next several years,” he said.  
After the project is completed, larger ships will be able to travel to and from the port and more jobs will be available; however, the number of employment opportunities is still uncertain, said Chris Crawford, Kingston’s communication director.
“It’s hard to say how many jobs the deepening itself would create — the most pertinent issue is that the life of the port, and the jobs and commerce it sustains, are at risk here,” Crawford said.
“If we can’t accommodate the larger vessels, companies will go elsewhere because it’s more efficient for them to load up the ship as much as possible. Ships are already forced to come in under their full capacity at Savannah and are tidally restricted,” he said in an e-mail.
Perdue called the port “the fastest-growing container port in the country,” which, he said, is beneficial to Georgia, given the volatile national economy.
“It ripples all the way across the state and into the metro area and that’s why the deepening of the Savannah Harbor is so important,” Perdue said.
According to a Sept. 16 news release from the Georgia Ports Authority, Savannah’s is the fourth-largest U.S. container port in the nation.
The expansion project has been 13 years in the making, according to Kingston.
Despite concerns about meeting the 2014 deadline, Perdue and Kingston are optimistic.
“We want to be a port to the world, and the world wants to come here,” the governor said. “Savannah has become a great port of entry and a great port of export for the world.” 
 

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