Port industry leaders support federal evaluation

Once again, the leadership of the Panama Canal makes our case for us.  At least 10 ports on the east coast are seeking federal dollars to deepen their harbor.  We’ve quoted Roberto Aleman, the Executive Director of the Panama Canal before — but we think he is a worthy authority on the subject as the deepenings on our coast are being driven by the expansion of the Panama Canal.  Aleman says “the US will have to decide which port expansions get funded… There are going to be some more efficient ports than others and there are going to be investments that are going to have to be repaid. Eventually, you have to make decisions as to which ports are going to get the money.”

In other words, we don’t need all 10, we can’t afford all 10 — and we better make sure the one that is funded is the right one.  How can we know that without a birds-eye view?  We need a federal evaluation of how the costs and benefits stack up.  Not a fire sale to the first port with a proposal.

Kurt Nagle, head of the American Association of Port Authorities, also believes that federal taxpayers cannot afford all of the projects.  Nagle acknowledges that “certainly we as an association and in the industry as a whole recognize and believe that not every port in the country needs to be at a depth to be able to accommodate the largest vessels in international trade.”

And yet, this is what the studies from the Army Corps of Engineers presume — that every single port on the east coast will be expanded.  This is how the study avoids addressing the reality, which is that the government will be picking a winner.  Port expansion funds come from a finite federal source, one port gets the money others will not.

Read more from Nagle and Aleman in this Georgia Public Brodcasting piece by Orlando Montoya.

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Advice of caution from Jacksonville

Jacksonville Florida is one of the many east coast ports considering a deepening to accommodate the super post-Panamax ships to come through the Panama Canal.  Ron Littlepage wrote this thoughtful editorial in the Florida Times Union last week.  Although the Times Union is owned by the same company — Morris News Corp. — as the Savannah Morning News (SMN), this Times Union editorial strikes a distinctly different tone than any by the SMN.   The SMN editorials have been unwavering, one might even say hysterical in their insistence that the Savannah harbor absolutely must be deepened, ridiculing all calls for cautious evaluation.  SMN’s reaction to the very same issue that Littlepage supports was very different.

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Film in Savannah, Saturday July 16th

Again and again we hear politicians and the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) justify the Savannah Harbor Expansion proposal as ironclad by the mere virtue of the many years taken to study it. While addressing a large group back in April, Curtis Foltz, Executive Director of GPA insisted “after $40 million and 12 years of study, do you really think there has been any short-changing?”

Well, yes — yes we do.  We think that it took that long to come up with anything that could even approach something that looked like mitigation.  The damage is that unavoidable.  And of course, it took that long to come up with a way to do it within the federal limits of cost-benefit ratio.  In spite of all that time and money, we think they have failed.

If you are one of those people who thinks that the Corps of Engineers is an infallible federal institution, The Big Uneasy is a must see.   If you still think of Hurricane Katrina as purely a natural disaster, this film will open your eyes.  The Big Uneasy tells the story of numerous costly mistakes by the Corps — and of an approval process that is very badly broken.

The first serious documentary by long-time “mockumentarian” Harry Shearer, The Big Uneasy follows three remarkable people–the leaders of two scientific investigation teams, and one whistleblower from inside the Army Corps of Engineers–as they reveal the true story of why New Orleans flooded.

Saturday, July 16th at the Lucas Theatre — 7:00 pm — Buy tickets here.

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Pick one

According to the Panama Canal’s chief executive officer, Alberto Aleman, there is no need to deepen more than one port on the Atlantic Coast of the U.S.

“Two deeper, wider ports along the US Eastern seaboard and one in the Gulf coast should be enough to handle the growth in traffic, instead of the approximately 13 port expansions now underway, Aleman said in an interview in Panama City.”

Norfolk, Virginia is already deep enough — that leaves one.

We have said all along that the federal government is being asked to pick a winner in this competition for federal dredging funds.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official Economic Analysis for the Savannah Harbor Dredging claims that all ports on the U.S. Eastern seaboard will expand. This presumes a ludicrous waste of federal dollars rather than a balanced choice based on the reality of economic need.

If it is going to be just one, it needs to be the right one, not the first one.  As Panama Canal CEO Aleman says “The East Coast has many ports, and the large container ships are not going to stop at every one of them.”

The case for the Savannah deepening, as  prepared by the Corps of Engineers, does not reflect this reality.

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What the Global Trade experts think

For this blog entry, we defer content to an excerpt from recent commentary in the Journal of Commerce.  The following is pulled from a March 21st piece by Peter Tirschwell, the Vice President for Strategy at UBM Global Trade.  Please remember, this is from the Journal of Commerce — not a green publication and not a South Carolina publication.

“Unless a port-deepening project is specifically endorsed by the president and included in the submitted budget, it gets funded through earmarks– the antithesis of national policy-making–where the local congressional representative maneuvers for appropriations. Continue reading

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Why didn’t you bring this up earlier?

Our drinking water is at risk, and we are going to pay for it in our water bills for years to come –  thanks to a manipulation of data by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Here is how it happens: Continue reading

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Prime Time Politics

Tonight at 7 pm, Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Prime Time Politics will cover “Port Politics.” Bill Sapp of the Southern Environmental Law Center and Andrea Malloy of the Coastal Conservation League are featured on the environmental panel. If you do not receive GPB television in your area, you can watch the program here.

Continue reading

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Comparison shopping

Senators DeMint and Graham are sponsoring federal legislation that would establish a review panel to determine the best place to spend federal funds for harbor deepening. This is a badly needed reform for a process that is badly broken. The current process has become hopelessly political, the creation of an unbiased panel would ensure that the most sensible decisions are made with our federal dollars. Continue reading

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Expensive & time consuming = good?

There are two sound bites that you will hear over and over from the proponents of this deepening.

One is that because the Corps spent 13 years studying the project, the studies are perfect. This is like saying that a student that takes 13 years to complete a 4 year college degree will be a superior student. The other sound bite that is equally implausible is the assertion that the unusually high price tag for environmental mitigation in this project is evidence that all has been perfectly mitigated. Both are untrue — the truth is that it took this long and this much money for this project to come anywhere close to mitigating and it still fails. Continue reading

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Distracting tactics

On Sunday, the Savannah Morning News (SMN) ran a compelling set of articles outlining the concerns raised by three federal agencies who have the power to veto the deepening. These articles are posted in our In The News section and you can also find them all here.

On the very next day, SMN runs an editorial rant against South Carolina for raising environmental objections to the deepening.

It is fascinating that the the editorial staff chooses to blame the-war-between-the-states for any and all problems with the deepening. Continue reading

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