U.S. Senators, Commerce Official Tour Port of Savannah

Savannah, Ga. – February 21, 2012 – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss met today with Acting U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank for a briefing on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) and a tour of the Port of Savannah.

"We’ve seen meaningful job growth over the last two years, but getting more Americans back to work means helping more American businesses sell their products and services in markets abroad,” Blank said. “The Port of Savannah is an important part of that bi-partisan priority. I enjoyed learning about the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project firsthand. Building a state-of-the-art, modern port is key to creating an economy that’s built to last.”

“I appreciate the Deputy Secretary’s willingness to come to Savannah to learn about the need to prepare this port, and all our nation’s ports, for the future of global commerce,” Senator Isakson said. “As Deputy Secretary Blank saw, the Port of Savannah is an export-dominant port and contributes greatly to the Department of Commerce’s National Export Initiative, which I support. The Georgia congressional delegation remains committed to seeing this critical project through to completion, because it will have a huge impact on the both the state and national economies.”

“Deepening the harbor at the Port of Savannah is in line with the nation’s priorities, including our focus on increasing American export capabilities,” Chambliss said. “Continued federal support for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is crucial to achieving the goal of doubling U.S. exports.”

Blank’s visit comes on the heels of recent announcements of $5.8 million in new federal funding that will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare for the construction phase of the harbor deepening, which is planned to begin in FY 2013. The additional money comes in part from a fund created by Congress, and in part from a $2.8 million line item in the president’s FY2013 budget proposal.

“The $180 million in state funds that have either been committed or budgeted to deepen the Savannah harbor speaks plainly to Georgia’s commitment to this project,” said Governor Nathan Deal. “Today’s visit is another indication of the emphasis federal officials place on our ports. Senators Isakson and Chambliss and Congressman Jack Kingston have played a pivotal role in ensuring this project is approved, and the necessary funds are in place to begin construction in the coming months.”

GPA Board Chairman Alec Poitevint echoed the governor’s comments about the importance of federal support. “The single most critical factor for the Port of Savannah’s future success, and its ability to move American-made goods to the international marketplace, is the completion of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project,” Poitevint said. “The work to deepen the Savannah Harbor up to 48 feet is precisely the type of effort that will bring comprehensive economic recovery to the United States.”

Acting Deputy Secretary Blank’s visit is the latest in a string of federal appearances at the Port of Savannah. In November, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lent his support to the project during a meeting with Governor Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

After the briefing, both senators and the deputy secretary toured the facility. As the fourth busiest container port in the country, the Port of Savannah serves approximately 21,000 companies in all 50 states, over 75 percent of which are headquartered outside of Georgia.

Previous Corps of Engineers studies revealed deepening the harbor to 48 feet will bring more than $115 million in annual economic benefits to the United States – mainly through lower transportation costs. The Corps’ full environmental and economic study is expected to receive a record of decision later this year, allowing the Corps to move to the construction phase of the harbor deepening in FY 2013.

The harbor project is necessary to prepare for a new class of larger container ships that are nearly three times the capacity of those currently able to transit the Panama Canal. In 2014, the Panama Canal expansion will be completed and increase the maximum draft of vessels traveling to and from the U.S. East Coast from 39.5 feet to as much as 50 feet. While the Port of Savannah regularly handles vessels that are too large to transit the Panama Canal, these vessels cannot load to their capacity.

Georgia’s deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support more than 295,000 jobs throughout the state annually and contribute $15.5 billion in income, $61.7 billion in revenue and $2.6 billion in state and local taxes to Georgia’s economy. The Port of Savannah was the second busiest U.S. container port for the export of American goods by tonnage in FY2011. It also handled 8.7 percent of the U.S. containerized cargo volume and 12.5 percent of all U.S. containerized exports in FY2011.

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