Deal, Reed say Savannah port expansion a priority

Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed vowed Monday to finish their push to expand the Port of Savannah, saying the effort sets the stage for how other local and state leaders can work together to help Georgia.

Speaking before a capacity audience at the Rotary Club of Atlanta, the two men called the port expansion their priority for the next year. The $652 million project, which is the subject of a lawsuit in South Carolina, was approved by federal officials earlier this year although it does not yet have federal funding.

Deal said he will ask the Georgia Legislature in January to approve an additional $50 million toward the project, bringing the state’s total contribution to just over $231 million.

He also said the state was “on the cusp” of more good news, adding that Reed’s ties to the Obama administration have been crucial in helping the state move ahead. “We put a tag team on them, quite frankly, and I think it paid off,” Deal said.

The project would deepen the Savannah River shipping channel to 47 feet, enough to accommodate supersized container ships and boost the port’s capacity — with a domino effect into the rest of Georgia of jobs and infrastructure, Deal and Reed said.

The wide-ranging discussion also touched on education and other development issues facing Georgia.

Deal affirmed his push to jump-start reservoir development in Georgia, which he began amid an ongoing fight with Alabama and Florida over the allocation of water in regional waterways between the three states.

Although environmentalists call such projects risky and expensive, the state awarded its first $100 million toward new reservoirs and water supply projects in August. The awards are part of a four-year plan to spend $300 million on projects expected to help boost the state’s home-grown water supply.