Last month, U.S. Sen. Johnny 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 premature and fiscally irresponsible.
The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for deepening the Savannah harbor isn’t even completed. There have been justifiable challenges to the draft EIS, issued in November 2010.
For instance, doubts abound about expensive “mitigation measures” proposed to reduce damaging project impacts, such as unproven methods for artificially injecting oxygen into the already impaired Savannah River so fish and other wildlife can survive.
The deepening also will cause further destruction of important tidal freshwater wetlands in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Moreover, until more is known about the comparative merits of deepening other harbors, there’s no assurance that altering the Savannah channel and harbor will provide a maximum public benefit.
To gain the full benefit of megaships, 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 the 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 higher.
Contrary to many claims, the Corps of Engineers has not determined whether this project will create any permanent jobs. Its lengthy analysis concludes that trends in the amount of port commerce at Savannah will be unchanged by the project.
The Corps says the project’s only benefit will be more efficient movement of goods by accommodating larger ships. They have not analyzed the comparative advantages of deepening other Southeastern harbors instead of Savannah’s.
To best serve the public and reduce disputes over major federal and state expenditures, all such projects must be held to a higher standard. Funds must not be approved until the environmental analysis is finalized and the public knows which projects will provide the maximum economic boost.
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.
David Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, St. Simons Island.