All seven contenders seeking the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss shared a stage before a few hundred spectators at a school auditorium in Savannah with less than two months remaining until the May 20 primary. And some of their sharpest disagreements dealt with issues critical to the Georgia coast.
Each vowed support for the $652 million deepening of the shipping channel to the busy Port of Savannah and accused the Obama administration of throwing up a roadblock in recent weeks that could delay construction from starting this year. Timing is critical because an expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to send supersized cargo ships to the East Coast as soon as 2015.
But the two candidates running as Washington outsiders said they were stunned the harbor deepening still hasn’t begun despite planning that started in the late 1990s.
“It’s just another example of a lack of a sense of urgency” by Congress, said David Perdue, the former Reebok and Dollar General CEO whose TV ads have portrayed the three congressmen in the race as whiny babies who can’t get anything done.
Karen Handel, Georgia’s former secretary of state, added: “No one would get 17 years to deliver this project to their boss in the private sector.”
Their barbs got a bristling response from Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah, whose district includes the port.
He promised the harbor expansion will get done and dismissed his opponents as latecomers to an issue Gov. Nathan Deal has called Georgia’s top economic priority.
“Have you ever written a letter in support of it?” Kingston asked.
“I’ve worked with two members on Congress on this stage but I haven’t heard from anybody else. ... Where were they when we met with the White House, over and over again? Or when we met with the four federal agencies that have to sign off on the project? Can they even name the four agencies?”
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