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Army Corps commander speaks to Conyers Rotary

CONYERS -- A $652-million project to deepen the river channel to the Port of Savannah is awaiting one vital component -- federal funding.

Col. Donald E. (Ed) Jackson Jr., commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Atlantic Division and who grew up in Conyers, said Thursday the corps spent 13 years studying the project before giving its final recommendation in April. That report found that the project -- deepening the harbor from 42 feet to 47 feet -- is economically viable, environmentally sustainable and in the best interests of the United States.

"Right now we are waiting on the president's budget to come out, and we are hoping the Savannah River project is part of it," Jackson said.

Jackson, who was assigned as commander of the Corps of Engineers South Atlantic Division in July, spoke to the Rotary Club of Conyers Thursday. A graduate of Heritage High School, Jackson received a bachelor's degree in building science and management from Clemson University, a master of business administration from Webster University and a master of strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. He completed numerous military education courses and has served in a variety of military troop and staff positions. He has received many military honors and decorations, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, and Defense Meritorious Service Medal, among others.

Jackson told Rotarians that the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is just one of the civil works projects the corps has under way in Georgia, but it is one of the most important. Jackson said the port project was placed on President Obama's "We Can't Wait" initiative list last year as part of an effort to expedite the permitting and review process for significant infrastructure projects.

In October the federal government gave final approval to the project, which is designed to make room for supersized cargo ships that will begin passing through the Panama Canal in 2015 following a major expansion of the canal.

The corps said in October that construction on the project could begin as early as this summer. The work entails scooping 5 feet of mud and sand from the riverbed along 38 miles of the Savannah River.

The federal government is expected to pay for the majority of the project, with state taxpayers chipping in 30 percent.

Savannah has the fourth-busiest container port in the U.S. and handled nearly 3 million cargo containers in the fiscal year ended June 30.