Georgia editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Jun. 13, 2018
Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Savannah Morning News on Georgia lawmakers scoring money for harbor deepening:
The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project won't out-dredge its funding, at least not this year.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers on Monday released its work plan for the Army Civil Works program. The multibillion dollar budget includes $35 million for our local port deepening.
This money, along with the $50 million that was part of President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2019 budget and $35 million from the state, covers the deep dig's annual cost, which ranges from $88 million to $110 million.
Our congressional delegation deserves praise for their lobbying efforts on the port's behalf. Led by Rep. Buddy Carter and Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, the group pushed harder than a team of tugboats for the funding.
Consider that a year ago, the Army Corps refused to commit a cent of Army Civil Works funds to the Savannah port.
"I am thrilled that President Trump, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and the Corps of Engineers have shown that they realize the critical importance of this project by committing strong federal funding," Carter said.
Perdue, a close Trump ally in the Senate, said the financial commitment is further evidence of Trump following through on his pledge to deliver on infrastructure promises.
"There is no doubt (the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project) is Georgia's top infrastructure project and will help our country compete globally," Perdue said.
Assuming the increase in funds signals Trump's continued support for the port deepening, Savannahians should feel confident the project will be completed on schedule in 2021. The Trump administration will draft the next two federal budgets and perhaps more depending on the next presidential election outcome.
"Ensuring the on-time completion of this project is a win for trade, a win for the economy and a win for the hundreds of thousands of jobs the Port of Savannah supports," Isakson said.
Three months ago, the Army Corps and its deepening contractors reached a significant milestone by completing the outer channel. The 18-mile stretch from the Savannah River's mouth at Fort Pulaski National Monument out into the Atlantic Ocean is now 49-feet deep and more than 500-feet wide.
Crews are now prepping for the 22-mile-long river portion that will connect the channel to the Georgia Ports Authority docks. The new money means no delays.
The progress undoubtedly strengthened Georgia's case to receive Army Corps funds, but the port sells itself in many ways these days.
The Port of Savannah set a new record for cargo movements in April and is on pace to move more than 4 million containers this year. Meanwhile, the ports authority is demonstrating its commitment to growth with the launch of the $126 million Mason Mega Rail Terminal, which will double the port's rail lift capabilities.
The rail terminal's opening is scheduled for 2020, the eve of the harbor deepening's completion. By investing in itself, the port - a state agency - makes it easier to attract federal support.
Perhaps more reassuring than the funding commitment is the knowledge federal leaders now grasp the importance of Georgia's ports.
The Brunswick News says it is time for the state to let oysters grow into big business:
We hate to see Coastal Georgia missing out on an industry that could potentially provide jobs and a steady supply of tasty bites to eat in restaurants everywhere.
After asking everyone from regulators to seafood company owners to shellfish farmers recently why Georgia's commercial oyster farming has never taken off, it seems there is an opportunity just waiting to be seized.
In states to our north and south and along the gulf coast, state laws and rules allow properly licensed people to use floating cages and mesh bags to practice aquaculture to grow and harvest the type of single-shell oysters restaurants serve. In Virginia, a once fledgling $200,000 oyster industry has grown to a $30 million endeavor in about a decade thanks to the state aggressively shepherding growers into the business.
There are currently just 10 commercially licensed oyster harvesters in Georgia, but they can only harvest wild oysters, not farm the kind of individual shellfish desired by restaurants. Instead, they have to stick solely to the clumps of oysters that grow naturally in our local waters. Those clumped oysters are fantastic, don't get us wrong. They are great for backyard oyster roasts and are no doubt a popular item during the right time of year, when water temperatures are cool enough for them to grow disease free.
But to truly have an industry that makes real money for real people, Georgia needs a commercial oyster seed hatchery. Currently, the University of Georgia operates a hatchery on Skidaway Island, but it was never meant to take the place of free enterprise. Potential oyster farmers will also need to be able to use the cage and mesh bag system to produce the right kind of marketable oysters.
The oyster hatchery run by the University of Georgia on Skidaway Island could produce 15 million seeds by 2022. The shellfish hatchery has provided 10 growers with the seed and cage equipment to collect data about how the oysters grow in our waters. From those, about 70 percent of the oyster seeds grew to the 3-inch harvestable size. If things began moving quickly to allow state growers to begin aquaculture, state experts estimate the business could generate $5.25 million in just six years, by 2022.
No doubt that would continue to grow, but as it is, the rules just aren't there yet. (...)
We understand that to get there, plenty of work needs to be done. A regulatory system must be in place to ensure oysters are safe for human consumption. At the same time, our ecosystem must be protected. There must be a system of enforcement and permitting in place for the gear, the places and the ways in which oysters are grown. But we don't have to re-invent the entire process. Other states, including South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida to name a few have already done it. It is time we follow suit.
We hope state Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, indeed does bring the topic up under the Gold Dome at the capitol in the next session as he said he planned to do. It may take a while, but it is time to get things moving in the right direction.
The Gainesville Times on a taped conversation Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle had with one of his primary opponents:
Even the most cynical of political observers holds some optimistic hope that somewhere along the way an elected official will come forth to disabuse the notion that politics is always at the heart and core of every decision made by those in political office.
We learned last week that Casey Cagle will not be that enlightened public servant.
It was truly disappointing to hear Hall County's native son captured on audio tape saying, repeatedly, that he had forced the passage of a piece of education legislation that he personally described as bad public policy in order to appease the political gods he hopes will allow him to become the state's next governor.
In a seven minutes of private conversation taped by one of Cagle's primary opponents, the sitting lieutenant governor said three different times his maneuvering to win passage of a bill to raise the cap on tax credits for private school scholarships was all about "politics" rather than shaping of good public policy.
In conversation with Clay Tippins, who finished fourth in last month's Republican Primary for governor, Cagle explained he had to get the bill passed to prevent state Sen. Hunter Hill, another Republican contender for the job, from getting $3 million worth of campaign donations which Cagle thought would go to Hill if the bill failed.
(...) That Cagle was so willing to admit the nature of his actions to a former opponent was almost as surprising as what was said, showing a clear lack of awareness that his own words could come back to hurt him.
"Is it bad public policy? Between you and me, it is. I can tell you how it is a thousand different ways," Cagle said in describing the tax credit legislation that he steered around the chairman of the Senate Education Committee by assigning it to another committee for consideration.
That committee chairman was Sen. Lindsey Tippins, uncle of Clay Tippins. Cagle and Lindsey Tippins worked together last year to stop passage of the higher tax credits, but when it came up this year, Cagle abandoned the Education Committee chairman, whom he had appointed to the job.
Since the tape's release, Cagle has been in damage-control mode. He has backed off on his characterization of the bill in question, saying at Saturday's dedication of his Gainesville campaign headquarters it wasn't perfect but "strong public policy" and "the good certainly outweighed the bad."
Yet he can't unsay what was said on the audio tape. (...)
There is a bit of an unscrupulous air about Tippins' actions in making a clandestine recording of an apparently friendly personal conversation then running with it to the media, but someone with Cagle's long tenure in the world of state government should have known better than to give voice to the political motivations for his actions.
It wasn't as though Cagle was caught with his guard down, but rather than he seemed to be bragging to Tippins about his ability to play and excel at the game of political power. He noted at one point he was "the only guy standing in the way" of getting the bill passed, until he decided to support it to prevent the possibility of Hill gaining financial support from a political action committee for his campaign.
Cagle, who faces Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a runoff for the Republican nomination for governor on July 24, has made improving public education a cornerstone of his gubernatorial campaign. We can only assume now that means he will back sound educational policy — unless, of course, there is a good political reason not to do so.
"It is my biggest issue, and it's the issue that I'm most passionate about, that I care the most, it's where I focus my efforts," Cagle said to Tippins in the recorded conversation.
On Saturday, he said, "My record speaks for itself and I stand behind what that record looks like. The record is a record that is pro-education. And it has always been and will continue to be my top priority."
If education is his passion, but he will still sell it down the river for political favor, one can only imagine what he will do on all the issues he cares less about.
Cagle is one of our own, but it is hard not to wonder if he hasn't spent so much time wheeling and dealing under the dome of the state Capitol that he's sacrificed personal convictions to the altar of political expediency.