Political Notes – Deal exults over Savannah ports bill

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Gov. Nathan Deal has been lobbying for months to get a federal funding commitment for the Savannah River dredging, so it was no surprise he was enthusiastic about the U.S. House vote Wednesday to pass an $8.2 billion water projects bill that includes the harbor deepening.

“Georgians have waited on this day for a long time,” Deal said. “The hurdles ahead of us are much shorter than those that are now behind us.”

“In addition to authorizing the project, the bill could allow Georgia to begin using the money it has put aside for the deepening; that is a critical victory for Georgia as we race to get ready for the much larger ships that will soon sail through an enlarged Panama Canal,” Deal said.

Georgia has already agreed to ante up $231 million for the project and the water projects bill authorizes $662 million in total expenditures, so a little basic math computes the federal contribution to be $431 million.

The House vote to pass the bill was 417-3, a rare display of bipartisan support that happened one week after the end of a bitter dispute between Democrats and Republicans over shutting down the federal government and raising the debt ceiling.

All 14 of Georgia’s House members – nine Republicans and five Democrats – voted for the bill, while Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson voted for the version adopted earlier in the Senate that would authorize $12.5 billion for the water projects.

Outside of the U.S. House, not all Republicans were so happy about the bill’s passage. Henry C. Jackson of the Associated Press reported:

“To pass the bill, many conservative Republicans had to ignore the concerns of outside groups like FreedomWorks, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Heritage Action for America that had backed the shutdown. They were among 10 groups that wrote lawmakers in opposition to the bill, saying it didn’t do enough to cut spending or block unneeded projects.”

Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger), an outspoken critic of federal spending in the past, voted for the $8.2 billion measure along with his Georgia colleagues. Graves’ spokesman John Donnelly said the bill contained major revisions in the process by which Congress budgets and allocates money for water projects, including:

  • Sets hard deadlines on the time and cost of studies by limiting feasibility studies to three years, where today studies can take 15 years to complete.
  • Limits the federal cost of studies to $3 million.
  • Shortens environmental reviews by requiring concurrent reviews and setting review deadlines.
  • Deauthorizes $12 billion by requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to take inactive studies and projects off the books.
  • Sunsets new authorizations after seven years (unless construction has been initiated) to prevent future project backlogs.

“The bill is more about governance than it is about spending,” Donnelly said.

It can’t be predicted, of course, how many – if any — of those process changes will still be in the water projects bill that emerges from the conference committee that reconciles differences in the House and Senate versions of the measure.

Another water issue

On a separate issue involving water, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the filer of a lawsuit against Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court, is asking the U.S. Small Business Administration to perform an “economic injury declaration” for Franklin County on the impacts to the region’s commercial oyster fishery.

Scott contends that Georgia’s consumption of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers is endangering the oyster fishing industry in Florida’s panhandle.

From Scott’s letter to the SBA:

In the summer of 2012, the State of Florida experienced an unprecedented decline in the supply of oysters within Apalachicola Bay, resulting from a lack of necessary freshwater inflows to support productive oyster communities. The collapse of the oyster fishery caused a significant loss of income to commercial oyster fishermen, oyster processors, and rural coastal communities. As a result, many businesses in Franklin County have experienced economic injury. . . .

I request that the Small Business Administration make an Economic Injury Disaster Declaration for Franklin County and offer low-interest SBA disaster loans to the affected businesses.

Southwire expands

Southwire, a longtime manufacturer of wire and cable products in the Carroll County area, announced it will spend $95 million to purchase two buildings as part of a business expansion that could create as many as 375 new jobs.

Southwire has purchased a 144,000-square-foot-facility in Villa Rica and has a contract with Sony Music Holdings to purchase Sony’s 635,000-square-foot facility in Carrollton (contingent upon completion of a 120-day due diligence period).

Personnel news

Bobbie Battista, a news anchor at CNN for several years who more recently handled media calls for Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, will be the anchor for “On The Story,” the news program that will be produced for Georgia Public Broadcasting by former TV reporter Bill Nigut.

Nigut said in a Facebook posting: “Thrilled we can announce that Bobbie Battista is joining GPB’s On The Story as our anchor. She was one of CNN’s best known anchors for years, and is a strong journalist who knows Georgia well. I feel fortunate to have her leading our on air team!”

© 2013 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Bill Nigut , Bobbie Battista , gpb , Nathan Deal , Rick Scott , Savannah harbor , Southwire , Tom Graves , water projects bill , water wars