Well, now we know what can stop — or at least slow down — the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Not hell. And not high water. Just an administration focusing on political posturing instead of creating jobs.
Vice President Joe Biden, he of the glib tongue, apparently was borrowing from someone else’s speech last year when he visited the Port of Savannah and uttered the words, “We are going to get this done come hell or high water.” In 2012, President Obama placed the harbor expansion, which has been budgeted by Congress, squarely on his “We Can’t Wait” list of things to get done in 2012.
A funny thing happened. It turns out that progress can wait after all and you don’t need hell or high water to show up to do it. An administration that blasts Republicans for not buying into its so-called job creation initiatives can decide it will just say no to real jobs and real economic progress that would have positive ripple effects throughout Georgia and beyond.
Georgia has committed more than $230 million to the project and officials were expecting a first big payment this fiscal year toward the $400 million that was expected to come from the federal government in the coming years. The Obama administration’s budget for Fiscal Year 2015 did contain the political equivalent of chump change for the project — a whopping $1.6 million for studying something that has already been studied to death, a project that has cleared every single hurdle cast in front of it with the exception of a case of remarkably intense political myopia in the Oval Office. Obama and his administration are looking exactly to Nov. 4 and not one day beyond, and if it costs people jobs and money in a Red State like Georgia, that’s a price they’re willing to pay.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie caught flak and may have seen his presidential hopes quashed by the closing a lane on a heavily traveled bridge, something he may or may not have had a hand in. Obama, however, has his fingerprints all over a budget that will close the Savannah port to the super-sized freight ships that soon will be using a deepened Panama Canal. If this isn’t fixed immediately, the companies that operate those mammoth ships will be look for other ports to unload and pick up goods once the canal project’s complete. Unlike politicians, business owners plan, and already shipping routes are being drawn. Instead of making commuters late for work or getting home, this trademark Washington business-as-usual maneuver by the administration is going to kill jobs altogether and set the project back at least a year, probably more.
The funding for the work was approved in November in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, but the administration is saying that’s not enough to start digging. It is holding up authorization for deepening the harbor from 42 feet to 47 feet until the House and Senate agree on reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act, an act that hasn’t been reauthorized in more than five years. The Corps of Engineers, which answers to the Executive Branch, won’t let Georgia officials use state money to begin the project because of the administration’s “interpretation” of what is required to move ahead.
In other words, despite clear direction from Congress to move forward with this project, despite Georgia’s willingness to go ahead and start with state funding after the administration failed to live up to its word, and despite the administration’s lip service about the enhanced port’s importance and great need, the Obama administration is content to let the Savannah Port fall behind the competition as a political bargaining chip.
The Obama administration had a chance to focus on job growth and economic progress with a project that literally is shovel ready. The overt omission of funding for the Savannah project is unfathomable. Once again politics have trumped progress.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board