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House-passed budget bills seeks to end delays starting $706M deepening of Savannah harbor

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SAVANNAH, Georgia — A budget bill in the U.S. House passed with a provision seeking to end further delays to the $706 million deepening of the Port of Savannah's busy shipping channel.

The bill passed 253-170 by House lawmakers Thursday night contains just $1.5 million in funding the Obama administration requested for the harbor project. That's far from the multimillion-dollar sum needed to start dredging more than 30 miles of the Savannah River to make room for supersized cargo ships.

But Rep. Jack Kingston, a Savannah Republican and member of the House Appropriations Committee, added a clause aimed at pressuring the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize by Oct. 1 an agreement to start construction using mostly state money. It says that if no agreement exists by the time the measure becomes law, the Corps must make weekly progress reports to Congress on the Georgia project.

However, the provision may not become law. The White House has threatened to veto the overall budget measure because of restrictions it would place on environmental regulations. And election-year maneuvers in the Senate, where Democrats face tough races to maintain their majority, have stalled votes on all budget bills in that chamber.

While federal funding has been tough to get for the Savannah harbor expansion, lawmakers in Georgia have already socked away $266 million for the state's 40 percent share. Gov. Nathan Deal wants to use that money upfront to start dredging as soon as possible. The Army Corps must agree to the plan first.

Like other East Coast ports, Savannah is scrambling for deeper water to accommodate giant cargo ships expected to begin arriving via an expanded Panama Canal as soon as 2015. Savannah has the nation's fourth-busiest container port, handling nearly 3 million cargo containers of imports and exports annually.

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