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Spending bill could kick-start Savannah Port construction

WASHINGTON --  A $1.1 trillion spending package hurtling through Congress gives an important boost to the Port of Savannah expansion project, likely speeding up its long-awaited groundbreaking.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, worked to insert language in the bill classifying the Savannah deepening from 42 feet to 47 feet as an "ongoing construction project." The language would allow work to begin sooner and give a nudge to the Obama administration to start ponying up more money, the veteran appropriator told us this afternoon:

"This isn’t quite a home run but I think it puts us on third base with a really solid lead. It’s going to make it a lot easier for the president next year to fund it in the budget and start making it abundantly clear this is an ongoing construction project and not one that’s under planning anymore."

The state has put away $231 million toward the $650 million project, while the feds have been stingy so far, but construction can begin using existing funds soon. Kingston said the Army Corps of Engineers must sign a partnership agreement with the port for the digging to begin, and this language should hurry up that process, even as federal authorization for the project remains in limbo with the Water Resources Development Act in a House-Senate conference committee.

"I think if they get the partnership agreement signed, they could start immediately with [environmental] mitigation, so I think it is. We still need WRDA, but I think there are things we can start doing so that when WRDA is done we won't lose any time. And I believe the other part of this is we need to send a signal internationally to shipping companies that this project is going to happen."

Despite the win for a project Kingston has been working on for two decades, he said he is probably going to vote against the spending bill this afternoon. You may recall, he's running for U.S. Senate in a crowded Republican primary and the three Congressmen in the race -- Kingston, Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun -- were the only Georgians to vote against the budget deal that led to this fast-track spending bill.

"It's difficult when you fight for your individual provisions," Kingston said. "But the spending level is still something I have a disagreement with."

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