February 10, 2016 8:30 AM
U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA), as well as U.S. Representative Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA-1), spoke out in a press release on Tuesday against the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request. They demanded answers on funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP), which is critical to keep the project on track, to avoid cost overruns, and to prevent timing setbacks.
SHEP was authorized in 1999 to deepen the Savannah River from 42 feet to as much as 48 feet. This project is in anticipation of an expansion of the Panama Canal, which is expected to increase the maximum draft of vessels to as much as 50 feet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that SHEP will bring $174 million in annual net benefits to the U.S.
The Georgia congressional delegation wrote a letter in October 2015 to Shaun Donovan, the Office of Management and Budget Director, explaining why it is critical that the administration include at least $100 million a year in federal funding for SHEP. According to the Army Corps of Engineers’ current construction plan, if the federal government fails to provide at least $80-100 million a year to SHEP for fiscal years 2017-2020, the project will not be completed on time, placing the hundreds of millions of dollars from resulting delays at taxpayer’s expense.
Still, the budget request failed to include adequate levels of funding for Georgia’s number one economic project.
“I am extremely disappointed that the president is shortchanging a critical infrastructure project such as SHEP while instead spending $300 billion on new ‘green’ projects and levying a new oil tax on hardworking families,” Senator Isakson said. “The administration has inflicted irresponsible cuts on the Army Corps of Engineers’ overall budget.”
“Over the past 15 years, the Savannah Port has been the fastest-growing port in the country,” said Senator Perdue. “Completing the expansion of the harbor will have a dramatic economic impact not only on Georgia, but the entire country. This must remain a priority for the United States to compete globally and expand American made products into new markets.”
“It is unacceptable and frustrating that the Obama administration has decided to ignore its commitment to SHEP,” said Representative Carter. “Failing to provide adequate funding for this critical project will result in delays and threaten to increase the cost to taxpayers. This project is essential for jobs and economic growth in the First District, the Southeast, and the entire nation and this administration must realize this truth and prioritize the project. This has been a long fight which is clearly not over and I will do everything in my power to ensure the federal government meets the commitment of the state.”
The budget request includes $42.7 million for SHEP for fiscal year 2017, beginning October 1, 2016. It also added another $24.32 million for the current fiscal year. It cut the Army Corps of Engineers’ overall budget by 22 percent, including a 40 percent cut to the corps’ construction account. A majority of the downsized funds are being put toward various conservation and environmental projections across the country.
We will see what answers, if any, will be given by the Obama administration regarding SHEP and the budget request.