Savannah harbor deepening among national port projects to be expedited by Obama executive order

From the Savannah Morning News:

The planned Expansion of the Savannah Harbor got a major shot in the arm late Wednesday when the Obama Administration announced it would expedite the project, with all federal reviews completed and a Record of Decision coming no later than November.

As part of his “We Can’t Wait” initiative, the president listed seven “nationally and regionally significant infrastructure projects” at five major ports, promising to put each on a fast track designed to save time and drive better outcomes for local communities. [. . .]

Improvements at the ports of Miami, New York/New Jersey, Jacksonville, Fla., and Charleston, S.C. also will be expedited, the White House said.

According to the Post and Courier in Charleston, the administration pledged that all federal reviews of the Charleston Harbor deepening plan will be completed by September 2015, nine months earlier than the shortened time line announced just a week ago by the Corps of Engineers.

More from The Huffington Post on how happy Nikki Haley was with the news:

“This is a huge win for Charleston and for all of South Carolina,” Haley said. “Back in February, I stressed to the president how important deepening Charleston’s port was and how frustrating the Army Corps’ timetable was, and I’m thrilled to see the administration has sped up our project.”

Wednesday evening coverage in the Wall Street Journal also focused on Charleston.

A few preliminary points worth considering:

  • There has been plenty of interstate rivalry between South Carolina and Georgia over port funding in advance of the completion of the expansion of the Panama Canal, but the Corps of Engineers’ economic analysis has always suggested that port infrastructure needs to be expanded all along the East Coast.
  • The Corps has determined that the amount of cargo handled through Georgia’s ports will increase at the same rate whether or not the Savannah River channel is deepened. I have previously noted the widespread confusion about this point.
  • We were already expecting the final approval this fall of the dredging of the Savannah Harbor to 47 feet. So it is unclear at this point what practical effect the President’s executive order has. It certainly indicates a fresh seriousness from Washington, but the action does not seem to  guarantee federal funding or a faster approval process than had been previously promised.