The announcement was part of Obama’s push to accelerate public works projects around the country and came as he flew Thursday to campaign in Jacksonville, Fla., a politically crucial state in his re-election bid. Other ports affected are Miami, Fla., and the Port of New York and New Jersey.
The measure was suggested by the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, although it may have done so on its own initiative, rather than at his behest. After all, even with the economy tanking he has not met with that body for more than six months — although he has found time to play dozens of rounds of golf.
The Savannah project would deepen the channel of the Savannah River by five feet to 47 feet. The deeper channel will be crucial in allowing mammoth new container ships to dock there in the wake of the completion of the Panama Canal widening project, due in 2014. An estimated 62 percent of the world’s container ship capacity will consist of the so-called “post-Panamax” ships by 2030.
At present, Savannah has the shallowest depth of any of its major worldwide trading partners, even though it is the fastest-growing container port in the country.
You don’t believe the “sleepy” Savannah port is fast-growing? Just roll out your beach towel on nearby Tybee Island and watch the container ships parade past. You’ll be educated in a hurry.
The widening project would include an ecosystem mitigation plan to minimize the impact on the nearby Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.
The expedited review date for all federal permit and review decisions is now moved up to November of this year.
“This is a positive step by the administration in recognizing the importance of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project to our nation’s economy. We must be prepared for the larger vessels of the future, and I hope we can build on this momentum and begin the actual harbor deepening in Savannah as soon as possible,” said U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson, (R-Ga.).
The deeper harbor obviously will benefit not just Savannah, but Georgia as a whole, including metro Atlanta. That port handles the heaviest share of Georgia’s exports and imports and is directly and indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs in this state. The wonder is not that the Obama administration is pushing to widen it, but that the decision to expedite things has taken so long.