“It’s been a heck of a challenge,” said McCurry, now 40 and with markedly less hair. “No question there were a lot of frustrating points along the way, times when you wondered when — if — we’d finally reach the point of construction.”
Everybody knew the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would methodically research the deepening’s engineering, environmental and economic impacts. They all understood that lining up congressional approvals at various junctures would be dicey. And they anticipated environmental challenges — and lawsuits — from Georgia and South Carolina groups defending the coast’s marshes and wildlife.
“But I don’t think anyone imagined it would be this slow or this long,” Mayor Reed said Wednesday.
Congress green-lighted the project in 1999. Thirteen years later, Washington gave its final blessing.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought the process would take 17 years,” said Trip Tollison, president of the Savannah Economic Development Authority. “It was a very complicated project and Jamie was the glue that kept it all together.”
James C. McCurry Jr. was sorely tried in 2004 and again in 2008 when many thought the deepening would be approved. Each time, the Corps wanted more study. Environmental lawsuits, settled in 2013, further slowed the project. As did bureaucratic monkey wrenches from South Carolina backers of the rival Charleston port.
“Tragically, it’s taken that long to get something done for our country,” said McCurry, now director of administrative and governmental affairs for the ports. “There’s got to be a way to make this happen quicker.” He even left the project , but not much had changed upon his return.
"I guess the port is always near and dear to my heart," said McCurry, who grew up in Savannah and unwinds aboard his father's boat, Kathy's Clown. A sip of Basil Hayden's bourbon also helps manage the frustrations, as does training for the occasional marathon.
McCurry, naturally, didn’t land SHEP by himself. Port long-timers Hope Moorer, Robert Morris and David Schaller share star billing.
McCurry, though, is the deepening dude in Georgia. All he has to do now is make sure Washington comes up with its $400 million share.
“It’s been immensely frustrating, but at the same time there’s a big sense of victory that we’ve gotten to the construction phase,” McCurry said.