AJC’s “Port Wars”: final installment considers battle for dredging dollars among East Coast ports

The final installment of Dan Chapman’s 3-part, over 6,000-word look at the proposed dredging of the Savannah River channel begins like this:

“Critics say a national strategy should govern the deepening of ports.”

For all the study of the proposed Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, one of the most obvious questions was not studied: Since evidence suggests we only need to deepen a handful of East Coast ports to accommodate larger ships, which ports should be prioritized to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs to taxpayers nationwide?

Click here to read this third and final installment.

From the piece:

Roughly $15 billion will be spent during the next decade to deepen and upgrade 10 major container ports along the East and Gulf coasts, according to a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Taxpayers will directly cover about half the cost.

Hunger for more cargo and fear of losing existing business are fueling the port building frenzy, especially with expectations that an expanded Panama Canal might drive more trade to the Eastern United States.

In the rush, though, no government agency has considered port expansion from a national perspective. So, is all the additional port capacity needed? Will U.S. ports cannibalize one another at the expense of taxpayers?

As the piece notes, Savannah, Charleston, and Jacksonville are within 200 miles of each other — do they all need to be dredged?

S.C. Senator Lindsey Graham made sure that national priorities will be considered:

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., agrees. He recently introduced legislation to better determine which ports get deepened, particularly with new limits on earmarks politicians used to steer tax dollars to their districts. Without earmarks, ports face higher funding hurdles.

Graham asked the corps, in essence, to lay the groundwork for a national port strategy that would pick port winners and losers. The Institute for Water Resources, a corps’ research arm, will report to Congress by June 30 on what port upgrades, and costs, are needed to handle a potential upsurge in Panama Canal-related traffic.

Said Graham, “We’re trying to create a merit-based system where ports can make their case for funding that’s not based on the politics of the Obama administration or parochial politics.”

Graham, though, isn’t above politics himself. He said, “It’s very safe to say that Lindsey Graham’s primary focus is giving Charleston the best chance she can to survive.”

Graham’s final comment there is particularly troublesome.

Given projections for increased global trade and for the world fleet to be dominated for decades by ships that already visit East Coast ports, there is no evidence to support that any of those ports will suffer — much less die — if they are not dredged.

Click here for my post about part 1 of “Port Wars”.

Click here for my post about part 2.

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