Congress Reaches Compromise On Bill With Key Savannah Port Provision

May 9, 2014

Credit Ga Ports Authority

After months of debate, a group of U.S. House and Senate leaders reached a compromise Thursday on a sweeping water projects bill. The agreement includes a key authorization for the Savannah port deepening project.

But the greenlight for construction isn’t a done deal yet.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) contains a needed legislative fix that raises the project’s spending cap to $652 million.

President Obama’s budget office has said once the bill is passed, it could then allow the Army Corps of Engineers to enter into an agreement with the Savannah Port Authority to begin construction.  

But Senator Johnny Isakson, R-GA, isn’t taking anything for granted. He and other state leaders fumed earlier this year after the budget office once again failed to commit significant federal funds to the project.

“What I don’t want to have happen is to get this WRRDA bill passed then have someone throw another roadblock. That’s the reason why it’s so important to get every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed,” said Isakson.

Gov. Nathan Deal has vowed to begin construction with state funds. Georgia has $266 million saved for the project. Isakson, however, said getting the administration’s sign-off first is key.

“We’ve got to make sure that the federal government is going to give Georgia credit towards its match requirement on this project once the fed money comes in,” said Isakson.

To that end, Isakson is trying to pressure the administration in ongoing confirmation hearings for Sylvia Burwell, the current head of the White House budget office and President Obama’s nominee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Earlier this week at one of the hearings, Isakson grilled Burwell about getting a final greenlight for the project.

Isakson: “Is there any impediment that you see?”

Burwell: “Senator, I look forward to continuing that conversation and I think there are ways that this project can go forward.”

Isakson: “Well I look forward to those meetings prior to the confirmation so we can do everything we can to solidify that.”

(*See below for video of full exchange between Isakson and Burwell)

Isakson says he doesn’t want Burwell confirmed until the project is approved. However, he acknowledges new Senate rules limit his ability to hold up the nomination.

“There are 55 Democrats in the Senate and 45 Republicans and with the nuclear option the threshold is only 51 votes to confirm so it’s obvious she can be confirmed whether or not that happens,” said Isakson.

The WRRDA bill still needs final approval from the full House and Senate and President Obama. If that happens and the budget office then greenlights the project, Isakson said construction could begin this summer.