Capitol Recap: Georgia port officials say they won’t fund new river crossing

The Georgia Ports Authority has called for replacing the Talmadge Bridge over the Savannah River, citing larger container ships that could have trouble passing under the span to reaching terminals upriver. (J. Scott Trubey/AJC)

Credit: J. Scott Trubey/AJC

Credit: J. Scott Trubey/AJC

The Georgia Ports Authority has called for replacing the Talmadge Bridge over the Savannah River, citing larger container ships that could have trouble passing under the span to reaching terminals upriver. (J. Scott Trubey/AJC)

Cost of Savannah bridge or tunnel would range from $1.17 billion to $2 billion

The Georgia Ports Authority paid $10 million for a feasibility study for replacement of the Talmadge Bridge over the Savannah River, and it’s called for removal of the span since 2018.

But its officials made it clear this past week that the authority should not be considered a funding source for the replacement, either a higher bridge with a projected cost of $1.17 billion or a tunnel under the waterway with a price tag of $2 billion.

The Talmadge’s height of 185 feet poses a problem for what’s now the third-busiest port in the United States as cargo ships grow larger and taller. The port has two cargo container terminals — and a third one in planning stages — on the upriver side of the span, meaning ships must pass beneath the bridge when arriving and departing the port.

Authority officials note that rival ports, from New York/New Jersey to Charleston, South Carolina, don’t face the same bridge height limitations as Savannah. That could put the Georgia port at a disadvantage once the larger cargo ships that are just now entering service begin traveling to the East Coast.

Funding for what’s become known as the Savannah River Crossing is expected to come from several federal and state sources. A decision on which alternative — new bridge or tunnel — isn’t expected until late 2025. and construction will take between nine and 11 years.

It’s not just a concern for Savannah or coastal Georgia.

Ports Authority facilities support 561,000 jobs and contribute $59 billion annually to the state’s gross domestic product, according to a University of Georgia study.

Brunswick port benefits from Baltimore’s losses after bridge collapse

Baltimore’s catastrophe has been a boon for Brunswick.

The coastal Georgia city is home to the second-busiest auto terminal in the United States. But it’s set to take over the top spot because of the ongoing shutdown of its main East Coast rival, the Port of Baltimore, after a cargo ship knocked down part of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, blocking the shipping channel.

Since the March 26 accident, Baltimore-bound ships that also call on Brunswick have offloaded about 10,000 more automobiles, farm implements and construction equipment in Georgia that were originally bound for Maryland.

Study: Georgia among the fastest-growing states for coverage under ACA

Georgia, with an increase of 181%, posted the third-fastest growth in people getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act between 2020 and 2024.

Joining Georgia in the top five were No. 1 Texas, No. 2 Mississippi, No. 4 Tennessee and No. 5 South Carolina, according to a study, conducted by KFF, a nonprofit health policy research organization.

The five, which had all declined to fully expand Medicaid under the ACA, also had some of the nation’s largest uninsured populations prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A key factor in the growth was the temporary subsidies that Congress approved under President Joe Biden that made private insurance plans virtually free during the pandemic to the uninsured with low deductibles. Those extra subsidies are scheduled to expire in 2025.

About 1.3 million Georgians, as of last count, signed up for ACA coverage for 2024. More than half of them — over 700,000 — earn just over the poverty level and now have access to the subsidized insurance plans.

Perhaps 290,000 other Georgians living below the poverty level — an individual earning $15,060 a year or less, or a household of three earning no more than $25,820 a year — remain without health care coverage.

Absolics, which is building a $600 million factory in Covington that will employ about 410 people to build components for making semiconductors, is receiving $75 million under the federal CHIPS and Science Act.

Credit: Zachary Hansen/ACJ

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Credit: Zachary Hansen/ACJ

Federal computer chip program to help pay for Covington factory

The federal government is kicking in $75 million toward construction of a factory in Covington that will produce vital components for making semiconductors.

The grant will be funded under the CHIPS and Science Act, a $280 billion package President Joe Biden signed into law in 2022 to help bolster domestic technology manufacturing.

Federal officials said facilities such as the Covington plant — being built by Absolics, a subsidiary of the South Korean conglomerate SK Groupwill help insulate the U.S. from future supply-chain constraints like those felt when a computer chip shortage hit the global economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Absolics makes products that will be used to package computer chips together. They will then be shipped to Asia for final assembly into computer chips. But state and company officials said during a 2022 groundbreaking that the new technology could eventually lead to full semiconductor production in Georgia.

The company first announced in 2021 that it will build the factory, a $600 million investment that is expected to employ 410 workers. At its groundbreaking, company officials said the facility would open in mid-2024. An updated timeline has not been released.

Newly elected Georgia committeewoman to RNC faces accusations

The Georgia GOP just this month removed its first vice chair after he was convicted of voting illegally nine times.

Now it’s been warned by the owner of a compliance service that it has elected a new member to Republican National Committee who has racked up 10 unpaid fines from the Federal Election Commission for not submitting reports.

Patrick Krason, the owner of Charleston, W.Va.-based FEC Compliance Services, also used a letter he sent to the state GOP to accuse the super PAC that conservative activist Amy Kremer runs of not paying several vendors, including his firm.

“I would hope that the GA Republican Party leadership will consider the questions of liability and optics (of) having someone like Amy Kremer representing the Party at the RNC,” Krason wrote.

Kremer scored a victory earlier this month at the state GOP convention over incumbent Ginger Howard to win a Georgia seat on the Republican National Committee. To establish her bona fides, Kremer highlighted her role in securing the permit for the pro-Donald Trump rally on Jan. 6, 2021, that preceded the storming of the U.S. Capitol. She also accused Howard of not fighting harder to overturn Trump’s 2020 defeat.

Unpaid bills are not a new issue for Kremer. She ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House in 2017 in a campaign marred by a mass walkout by staffers who said she didn’t pay their salaries.

Krason urged state GOP leaders to launch an investigation to review whether Kremer is eligible for the post.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-St. Simons Island, recently blasted the Fish and Wildlife Service over the federal agency's opposition to a mine proposed on the east flank of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

Carter takes aim at federal agency over opposition to Okefenokee mine

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-St. Simons Island, used a congressional hearing to blast the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its opposition to a controversial mine planned near the Okefenokee Swamp.

“I’m not entering an opinion one way or the other (about the mine),” Carter said. “My concern here is the federal government and their role in this and why they’re inserting themselves into this when it has obviously been stated to be a state project under state permitting.”

Carter’s district includes most of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, as well as Trail Ridge, an ancient sand dune formation that runs along the swamp’s eastern flank where an Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals is seeking state permits to mine for titanium minerals.

The company has said the mine will not harm the swamp, and so far, the state’s Environmental Protection Division has mostly agreed with the company’s analysis.

Environmental groups and outside scientists, however, have warned for years that the groundwater withdrawals the company plans could imperil the fragile ecosystem and its wildlife.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, has also repeatedly voiced its opposition to the mine.

Carter’s concerns included a flyer the agency published in April answering “frequently asked questions” about its opposition to the proposed mine, asking why taxpayer money was being spent on “propaganda like this opposing the project.”

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said that, if asked, he would be open to speaking on President Joe Biden's behalf at the Democratic National Convention in August. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Duncan considers a high-profile role helping Biden remain in White House

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has already endorsed Democratic President Joe Biden in his bid for reelection.

Now, Duncan says he would be open to speaking on behalf of the president at the Democratic National Convention in August.

The president called Duncan shortly after he became one of the most prominent Republicans to back Biden over former President Donald Trump in this year’s election.

“We talked about the fact we disagree about a lot but we are united in the fact Donald Trump as president again would be a danger to the future of this country,” Duncan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Duncan said that, if asked, he would consider participating in the Democratic National Convention. If so, he’d be pulling a reverse Zell Miller. Miller, a Democratic stalwart who served two terms as Georgia’s governor before entering the U.S. Senate, gave the keynote speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention in support of President George W. Bush’s reelection.

“I’m committed between now and November to defeating Donald Trump at the ballot box,” Duncan said, “and steering the Biden administration closer to the middle.”

Political expedience

  • Seeking a new job? U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-St. Simons Island, has spent five terms in the House. He’s now weighing a bid to move to the other side of the U.S. Capitol. Carter told Atlanta’s 11 Alive news that he is considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2026 against Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff. In 2022, Carter was gearing up for a showdown against Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock but opted against it when fellow Republican Herschel Walker entered the race.
  • Prison oversight: The U.S. House voted 392-2 to support legislation initiated by Georgia Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff to require more inspections of federal prisons, require the Bureau of Prisons inspector general to report recommendations to Congress and create an ombudsman to investigate complaints from staff, inmates or their families. U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, sponsored the bill in the House, although Republicans were brought in as co-sponsors as a show of bipartisan support. The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.