Port project a big deal

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston represents Georgia’s 1st Congressional District.

After 14 years and the most comprehensive study of the Savannah River in history, at least two things are clear: Savannah’s harbor can be deepened in an environmentally sensitive manner, and the project is in our national interest.

When Congress first authorized this project in 1999, we included a unique provision for a civil works project, requiring that four federal agencies approve it and certify that its environmental impact is adequately mitigated.

The Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency — in addition to Georgia and South Carolina — have participated in the study that created our current environmental mitigation plan.

In studying the project, every effort was made to avoid and reduce environmental impact. Such great care was taken, mitigation accounts for about half the total cost of the project.

Mitigation projects include flow rerouting to expand wetlands, the expansion of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge by 2,245 acres, marsh restoration, the removal and conservation of the sunken CSS Georgia Civil War ironclad, and a dissolved oxygen system that will improve oxygen levels in 90 percent of the estuary.

The Corps has doubled its planned monitoring period from 5 years to 10, giving it additional time and resources to ensure mitigation is working and make adjustments as necessary.

Beyond ensuring the project can be completed in an environmentally sensitive manner, it is incumbent on the Corps, Congress, and me as representative to ensure the project is a good use of limited taxpayer resources.

For every dollar we invest in the expansion of Savannah’s harbor, we will see a return of $5.50. That is the greatest return on investment for any project of this kind. Also, Georgia’s deep-water ports are regional and national economic engines. They support 352,000 jobs and contribute $18.5 billion in income, $66.9 billion in revenues, $2.5 billion in state and local taxes and $4.5 billion in federal taxes yearly.

Deepening Savannah’s harbor will augment that already huge economic impact. Once completed, the project will yield $174 million annually in net economic benefit. The Corps also estimates the project will more than double the amount of cargo that passes through the port by 2030.

Companies using the port will realize great efficiencies, as fewer ships can carry more goods. They are estimated to see a savings of $213 million each year, or $10 billion over the life of the project that can be reinvested in job creation and business expansion.

This project makes economic and environmental sense. In the time we studied it, China took a port larger and deeper than Savannah from start to finish. We cannot fall behind.

If America is to remain competitive, we must be able to accomplish big things. The Savannah Harbor expansion project, most certainly, is a big thing.