and Bruce Smith
Associated Press Writers
SAVANNAH — The plan to deepen the shipping channel to Savannah’s busy seaport to make room for large cargo ships has picked up a big endorsement from Vice President Joe Biden.
During a dockside speech at the Port of Savannah on Monday, Biden promised about 500 dockworkers and invited dignitaries that the $652 million harbor deepening project will get done “come hell or high water.”
For 17 years, Georgia has been seeking permits and funding to deepen the Savannah harbor from 42 to 47 feet. Timing has become critical as a major expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to funnel gigantic ships to East Coast ports starting in 2015.
Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, says Biden’s remarks indicate Savannah’s project has the “full backing” of the Obama administration.
While in Charleston, Biden also implored Americans to find the resources to invest in its ports, warning the U.S. will fall behind its competitors unless it spends now to bolster its infrastructure.
Addressing a crowd of about 300 on a wind-swept dock in Charleston, S.C., Biden said the U.S. is behind the rest of the world. He cast infrastructure projects as key to a broader strategy of growing the middle class, calling them a big win not just for local communities, but the entire nation.
“Every time we invest in infrastructure as Democrats or as Republicans — every time we have done it — the economy grows and it grows good, decent-paying jobs,” Biden said.
The Charleston swing by Biden and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was the latest stop in an ongoing effort by the vice president to shine a light on the nation’s ailing roads, bridges and ports in hopes of encouraging more investment despite opposition by many Republicans to more government spending. The two visited the Port of Baltimore last week.
Before speaking on the Charleston docks, Biden and Foxx met with officials at the South Carolina State Port Authority’s Wando Terminal in nearby Mount Pleasant. They chatted for a time with longshoremen who took a break from loading three massive container ships that were at the docks.
Charleston is working on a harbor deepening project expected to cost more than $300 million. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the project to deepen the harbor to 50 feet from its current 45 feet to handle larger ships that will routinely be calling when the Panama Canal is widened in 2015.
“We’ve got to find the resources to do it, because it will pay back multiple dividends to the economy and the people of South Carolina and the country,” Biden added.
The vice president said two-thirds of the traffic through the canal already starts or stops in the United States and “that’s going to increase dramatically.”
As for the pending study of the deepening project, Biden said he already knew what it would say.
“We’d better deepen it to 50 feet,” Biden said. “Otherwise, guess what? We’re going to be left behind, because other ports are going ahead and doing it.”
Foxx noted that $5.5 billion in cargo passes through America’s ports every day. And Brig. Gen. Ed Jackson, who commands the South Atlantic Region of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said a final recommendation on deepening the Charleston shipping channel is expected from the Corps in 2015. But a favorable recommendation would still require Congress to earmark money for the project.