The $50 million Congress wants to set aside for Savannah harbor deepening work in its new government spending package represents a high-water mark in federal funding for Georgia’s top economic development project. But it’s also only half of what backers of the nearly $1 billion expansion say is needed to keep construction on track.
The fiscal 2018 spending level matches the amount the Trump administration proposed in its budget request to Congress last year. It’s also how much the White House wants to give the project in the upcoming 2019 cycle.
But project backers say roughly $100 million a year is what’s necessary to maintain the current 2021 completion timeline.
Georgia lawmakers have warned that funding the project at $50 million would delay the project’s completion by five years, cost an additional $56 million because of inflation and generate an “irretrievable, cumulative loss” of $1.4 billion in annual economic benefits.
It’s possible the Savannah project could see more money in the weeks ahead.
While the earmark ban prevents lawmakers from setting aside any more money for specific projects like Savannah, Congress can give agencies additional dollars and direct them to spend the money on certain types of projects.
Indeed, the spending bill sets aside $2.1 billion for construction projects at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a 10 percent increase above last year’s level. Lawmakers direct the feds to focus on “projects and activities to enhance the nation's economic growth and international competitiveness." It will be up to the Corps to decide if Savannah qualifies, and it passed on a similar chance to give the project more funding last year.
Work to deepen the Savannah River channel from 42 feet to 47 feet reached its midway point last month. The bulk of the current construction work has been funded with the $266 million the state of Georgia initially forked over for the project. The most the feds have contributed in a single year is $42.7 million.
Both chambers of Congress are expected to approve of the 2,200-page spending plan by the end of the week.