ATHENS, Ga. --- If President Obama wants to focus on American exports, he should support funding the deepening of the Savannah River, Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz told lawmakers Tuesday.
Foltz is looking for allies from both political parties in his effort to win approval from Washington for the federal share of the $600 million project to prepare the river for bigger ships.
The authority has already tapped Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat, for a White House meeting in October and the state's two GOP senators and Savannah's congressmen, one from each party.
Georgia leaders hope that support from politicians across the state will help the cause.
Savannah is unique as the country's only major containers port with a relatively balanced volume of imports and exports. Most ports have to ship empty containers back across the ocean just to supply overseas producers.
Obama has often said that beefing up American exports is the key to economic recovery. Foltz considers that a plus for Savannah's efforts.
"There is not another port in the nation that should be on the current administration's list of making sure that continues," Foltz said.
The state ponied up its share of the deepening in last year's budget in anticipation of a positive report in the environmental impact statement.
That statement, when released this fall, did give the green light to the project.
Supporters hope that green light will signal Washington to fund the project. But, the federal government is looking for ways to save money, and other states are also seeking funds for their own harbor enhancements.
Foltz made the point to the legislators that they all have a stake in the port's success.
"Our ports are just as much Athens' ports as they are Atlanta's ports or anywhere else in the state," he said.
With nearly 300,000 jobs statewide attributed to the Georgia Ports Authority, it is the state's biggest generator of jobs, he said.
"Each of you have jobs that are dependent on the ports," he said.
His remarks were broken up by questions from the lawmakers in attendance, mostly from those newly elected seeking details about various aspects.
The members of the General Assembly are at the University of Georgia in Athens for a three-day conference about the major issues they'll be dealing with in the coming legislative session.
(Walter Jones is the Morris News Service Atlanta bureau chief. Reach him at email@example.com.)