Political Notes – Ports officials must have known what was coming

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Either it was a happy string of coincidences or the officials of the Georgia Ports Authority knew that this was going to be a momentous week for the folks who run the state’s harbor facilities.

Whichever explanation you pick, it was a week filled with reasons for the GPA to celebrate.

It all started on Monday when the board of the Georgia Ports Authority voted to approve a major investment in equipment upgrades: $86.5 million to buy four ship-to-shore cranes and 20 of the rubber-tired gantry cranes that are used to handle cargo containers at the Garden City terminal.

Ports officials said the new equipment, scheduled to arrive in February 2016, would give GPA additional “Post-Panamax” cranes – a reference to the larger cargo ships that are expected to be traversing the expanded Panama Canal by then on their way to U.S. ports.

GPA’s ability to handle those larger ships depended upon the approval of federal funding to dredge the Savannah River by another five feet so that the harbor can be expanded – an approval that was still up in the air as board members voted to spend $86.5 million on the cargo-handling equipment.

Within 24 hours of the board’s action, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 412-4 on Tuesday to pass the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), a bill that provided the necessary congressional authorization for funding the Savannah Harbor project and a host of other projects as well.

The bill raised the authorized limit on the harbor expansion to $706 million, with the federal government paying $492 million and the state kicking in $214 million.

Forty-eight hours later, the Senate voted 91-7 on Thursday to give its approval to the ports funding legislation and send it to President Obama for his expected signature.

After the president signs the WRRDA, the state will execute a Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specifying how the costs of the project will be shared between the state and federal governments.

With that rapid-fire sequence of political actions, it appears that one of Georgia’s largest infrastructure projects in a while will be getting underway.

“After 16 years of study, we are now on the eve of construction,” said Robert Jepson, chairman of the GPA board.

Executive appointments

Gov. Nathan Deal has appointed Toccoa attorney Willie J. Woodruff Jr. as the new solicitor general for Stephens County.  Woodruff replaces Dan T. Pressley, who died Dec. 30.

Woodruff was a judge in the Toccoa Recorder’s Court from 1995-2010, after serving as solicitor of that court from 1992-1995. He has a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and a law degree from Rutgers University.

Other appointments by the governor –

Georgia Composite Medical Board:  Jeffrey S. Grossman of Atlanta, the founding partner of Peachtree Spine Physicians.  State Workforce Investment Board:   F. Jack Perrett, general manager for Rayonier Advanced Materials Mill in Jesup. State Board of Funeral Service:  Athens funeral director L. Thomas Lord.

State Board of Accountancy:  Ashley N. Addison of Atlanta, a certified public accountant; Elizabeth W. Hardin of Macon, an administrative partner at McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co.; and Wanda W. Goodson, a Dawsonville accountant.

Georgia Child Fatality Review Panel:  Kathleen A. Bennett of Augusta, a disabilities and mental health specialist for the Central Savannah River Area Economic Opportunity Authority’s Head Start Program. Board of Early Care and Learning:  Tangela W. Johnson of Whitfield County, the president of the North Georgia Center for Educational Excellence.

Vance Smith signs on at RTA

The RTA Strategy political consulting firm has added former state legislator and transportation commissioner Vance Smith of Pine Mountain to its roster.

“Vance was an effective lawmaker and influential DOT commissioner,” said Rick Thompson, the former director of the state ethics commission and RTA’s CEO. “I have had the honor of knowing Vance as both a lawmaker and successful businessman.”

Smith more recently worked in business development for the engineering management firm CH2M Hill.  RTA Strategy now includes Thompson, Smith, former state senator George Hooks of Americus and Jason Boles.

“Vance and I served many of the same constituents over the years,” Hooks said. “Vance’s influence and understanding of transportation is unmatched. It is wonderful to again work with my dear friend.”

GSBA announces slate of directors

The Georgia School Boards Association said six district directors were elected at meetings held in April and May.

The directors include:  District 1, Lamar Allen, Effingham County Board of Education; District 2, Frank Griffin, Lee County Board of Education; District 3, Mark Cantrell, Muscogee County Board of Education; District 4, Katrina Young, Rockdale County Board of Education; District 5, Dr. Mary Kay Murphy, Gwinnett County Board of Education; and District 6, Sue Brown, Coweta County Board of Education.

“This is an important role and it demands high levels of leadership,” GSBA President Ron Hopkins said. “The caliber of experience and professionalism these local school board members possess will be an asset to the organization.”

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Georgia Ports Authority , Georgia School Boards Association , Nathan Deal , Robert Jepson , Savannah Harbor expansion , Vance Smith