Savannah Army Corps Overruled By Washington On Port Deepening

Mar 27, 2014

The Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah office ruled in a legal opinion that construction to deepen the Port of Savannah could move forward.

That opinion was overruled by the Corps' national headquarters, according to top Corps officials.

The dispute was revealed Wednesday during a congressional subcommittee hearing, which included some members of the Georgia delegation.

Corps officials said the Savannah district office had submitted an opinion saying the Corps has the authority to sign off on the $652 million project, because funding had been provided in the president’s spending plan authorized earlier this year.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostic said after consulting with the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget, the opinion was overturned, leading to an exchange with Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia).

“That’s not a legal opinion; that’s a political opinion, would you say?

After a few seconds of silence, Bostic replied, “It’s not a legal opinion,” prompting laughter from committee members.  

Assistant Secretary for the Corps’ civil works Jo-Ellen Darcy quickly dismissed that interpretation.

“I believe the administration made a decision that – a policy decision – that this project needs to be authorized before it can get construction dollars,” Darcy said.

National and State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were left scratching their heads earlier this month when the president’s budget proposal did not include construction funding for the port deepening, as had been expected.

The Corps maintains further authorization is needed for the project because the scope and cost have grown significantly since its initial authorization. Corps and administration officials say that will come in the form of the Water Resources Development Act, which is currently sitting in a congressional conference committee.

Gov. Nathan Deal has maintained the state will move forward with preparing the area for construction with the $266 million it’s saved for the project.

Deal spokesperson Brian Robinson Thursday said the Corps' decision doesn’t change much.

He said the state will still move forward with acquiring land and preparing surrounding wetlands, but actual construction remains on hold.

“That’s what the White House says we have to do,” Robinson said. “We don’t necessarily agree with that interpretation, but their ruling stands.”

Darcy, of the Corps, said she’ll do “everything in [her] power” to authorize the deepening project once Congress authorizes the water resources bill.