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Georgia congressmen seek House budget support to jumpstart $652M Savannah harbor deepening

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SAVANNAH, Georgia — Georgia's 14 congressmen sent a letter Wednesday to the chairman of a House budget subcommittee to ask for help jumpstarting the expansion of Savannah's busy shipping channel.

State officials are still trying to find a way to start construction this year on the $652 million harbor deepening a month after the Obama administration refused to seek construction funding for the project and put up a roadblock to Gov. Nathan Deal's effort to us the state's own money to start the dredging.

All nine Republicans and five Democrats from Georgia's House delegation signed the letter to Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. It names the Savannah harbor deepening as the delegation's top budget priority and seeks new language in the fiscal 2015 budget bill "in order to ensure this project moves forward."

The Georgia congressmen ask for budget language reiterating that Congress has reclassified the Savannah expansion as a project that's under construction, rather than one considered still in the planning phase. The letter also requests that House budget writers again direct the Army Corps of Engineers to acknowledge a two-year waiver Congress approved for an outdated spending cap placed on the project in 1999.

Both provisions, intended to speed construction, were originally included in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress and signed by the president in January. But the Obama administration still withheld construction funding and rejected Deal's state funding idea.

The White House says a water-projects bill stalled by disagreements between the House and Senate must win final approval before Savannah's harbor expansion can proceed. The water-projects bill would eliminate the Savannah project's $459 million spending cap imposed 15 years ago.

Savannah has the fourth-busiest port for container cargo in the U.S. Like other East Coast seaports, Savannah is scrambling to deepen its harbor to make room for supersized ships expected to arrive via an expanded Panama Canal as early as next year.

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