Today, the Atlanta Business Chronicle published an op-ed by U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14) about the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) that was passed by the U.S. House last week. The bill, which was unanimously supported by the Georgia Congressional delegation, authorizes the development and maintenance of the nation’s waterway infrastructure, including the funding necessary for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project to move forward. Rep. Graves also outlines key reforms in the legislation to reduce costs and remove bureaucratic hurdles that hamper important projects.
Progress on the Port and Water Resources
By Rep. Tom Graves
Atlanta Business Chronicle
November 1, 2013
Georgia is poised to grow as a leader in international commerce due to our geographic location, transportation networks and innovative businesses. Industries across Georgia are a source of quality products for our country and the world. In fact, that last part – “the world” – will be the key for us in the coming years as our businesses continue growing to meet demand from the international marketplace.
So, it was good news last week when the House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). This legislation will ensure that our nation’s waterways have the infrastructure necessary to foster economic growth and help our businesses compete globally. After the long partisan slog of the last several years, particularly this fall, it was refreshing to pass a smart legislative package by a bipartisan margin of 417-3.
In a key win for Georgia, the bill authorizes over $460 million to proceed with the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP), which was deemed by President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers as, “nationally and regionally significant.” Importantly, the authorization lifts an outdated cost cap that was a major federal barrier to the project’s success. As many know, we have to get this project done in order to accommodate the new fleet of supertankers that will soon begin passing through the expanded Panama Canal. Otherwise, Georgia will get left in their wake as they pass by for other ports.
Overall, the projects and reforms in the House-passed water infrastructure bill will be a boost for our economy and provide many thousands of new opportunities for those who need a job or want a new one. Estimates show that the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project alone will bring $174 million in annual net benefits to the United States, create 11,554 jobs, free up $213 million in private capital annually due to reduced shipping expenses and will continue to support more than 352,000 existing jobs throughout the state.
Just as important, the bill respects taxpayers and implements long-needed reforms by setting hard deadlines on the time and cost of studies—a root cause of many project delays. The bill clears out $12 billion in old projects to offset the cost of new projects. It also implements key cost saving measures that limit Corps of Engineers feasibility studies to three years and cap the federal cost of the studies at $3 million. Currently, no feasibility study time limits or cost caps exist.
At the heart of the reforms in WRRDA is its streamlining of environmental reviews. Under the bill, the Secretary of the Army will have the lead role in facilitating the environmental review process and fostering collaboration among all agencies involved. This proposal also eliminates duplicative analyses by creating an accelerated timetable to allow non-federal project sponsors and the Corps of Engineers to proceed directly to a feasibility study. It peels back a layer of bureaucracy by ending the head-scratching requirement that the Corps re-evaluate cost estimates immediately after initial cost estimates have just been completed.
Finally, the House has provided the Corps of Engineers permanent authority to accept funds from non-federal public interests and public utility companies to expedite the processing of permits within the Corps’ regulatory program. This is a huge win for taxpayers and non-federal entities who wish to see important projects completed in their lifetimes.
The Savannah harbor project serves as a great example for why all the aforementioned reforms are vital. The project has been slowed since the 1990s by a number of setbacks, including countless environmental reviews, studies, and outdated cost caps. Initially, the cost was estimated and therefore limited to $459 million. After 14 years of holdups, the project is now estimated to cost over $660 million. WRRDA seeks to prevent such costly, bureaucratic nightmares from happening in the future.
Its history of hurdles aside, the Savannah harbor project is close to the finish line. As a member of the Congressional Ports Caucus, and a supporter of trade and the infrastructure necessary to compete globally, I will continue working in a bipartisan way to support the project. Soon, we should see supertankers arrive at the port full, and Georgia businesses will make sure they leave full.
Know that the good news I’ve outlined is not set in stone just yet. The Senate passed its own version of the water infrastructure bill, which differs in several ways from the House bill. We aren’t terribly far apart, and both chambers should swiftly enter a process to resolve any differences and get these wins for Georgia signed into law.