The water legislation President Barack Obama is slated to sign in the days ahead is expected to send more federal money to the Savannah port expansion project.
Both chambers of Congress passed the measure last week in one of the last official acts on Capitol Hill in 2016.
The bill increases what the federal government is expected to pitch in for dredging the nation’s deeper ports, lessening the states’ share of the burden. The federal government is now expected to carry up to 75 percent of the cost for deepening projects up to 50 feet. Before, the government only needed to chip in that much for projects less than 45 feet deep.
That’s good news for supporters of the project at the Savannah port, which recently began dredging work to deepen its harbor from 42 feet to 47 feet to accommodate bigger cargo ships coming in from the newly expanded Panama Canal.
Prior to the water bill passing, Georgia put up more than $260 million for the project and was expecting the federal government to pitch in the rest of the roughly $706 million needed.
Jamie McCurry, the senior director of administration and government affairs for the Savannah port, estimated the change provided in Congress’ water bill could mean tens of millions of dollars for the project.
The exact figure will be determined later by Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The bill also includes a provision Georgia lawmakers say will aid the state in its long-running water rights battle with Alabama and Florida.
Authored by Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville, the language reverses a 2014 provision that directed Congress to craft legislation on water usage for the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers if the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida could not come to their own agreement.
Woodall said that 2014 provision broke with decades of precedent that kept Congress out of such water disputes.
“The worst possible scenario is having a bunch of folks who don’t live in this region, a bunch of folks who aren’t impacted by this decision-making in Washington, D.C., decide they’re going to pick the winners and the losers here,” Woodall said.
“We made the effort to simply level the playing field once again, and that is removing the language that Alabama put in two years ago,” Woodall added.
Alabama and Florida’s lawmakers fought hard to stop Woodall’s efforts. They said it would tip the water battle’s scales in Georgia’s favor, and they tried to block the bill’s advancement in the Senate last this week.
“If somebody gets the edge — and Georgia’s looking for the edge right now — that would not be good for negotiations,” Alabama Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby said.