A 47-foot depth would allow the Savannah harbor to handle mega-ships with deeper drafts.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called the federal government’s final approval Oct. 26 of the $652 million project to deepen the river channel to the Port of Savannah “a major milestone.”

“…but we are not popping corks just yet,” he added in a release as legal challenges by environmental groups are still pending in South Carolina courts.

The Army Corps of Engineers is the fourth federal entity to approve the project following the lead of the Department of Commerce, the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Georgia officials have sought for 15 years federal permission to dredge a stretch of the riverbed for 38 miles between the Port of Savannah and the Atlantic Ocean from 42 to 47 feet.

The project is to be undertaken to accommodate large cargo ships that will be traveling through the Panama Canal once that waterway is expanded and operational in 2015.

Meanwhile, Charleston, S.C.’s port, a competitor to the Savannah port, is seeking to deepen its harbor from 45 to 50 feet for the giant vessels and has joined a federal lawsuit by environmental groups to halt the Savannah River project.

In late August, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control filed documents saying it should be able to participate in the suit because it would have to issue a Pollution Control Act permit if the court were to require one. The permit requirement is a key component of the suit against the Savannah project.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the suit against the Army Corps on behalf of the Augusta-based Savannah Riverkeeper, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation citing numerous environmental concerns.

In his statement, Mr. Deal said that “There’s still much to get done, and Georgia is ready and able to pay its 40 percent of the cost.”

Chris Cummiskey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, lined up behind the governor in a statement to Global Atlanta, calling the ports “the economic engine of the state.”

He also said that the project was critical for Georgia’s ability to handle the trade that is expected to come from the Panama Canal expansion.

Page Siplon, executive director, the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, told Global Atlanta that the Savannah River deepening would be “a critical component for the future competitiveness of the logistics industry and the economy here in Georgia and also well beyond.”

The center will be organizing the fifth annual Georgia Logistics Summit on March 19-20, 2013, at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Craig Lesser, the former commissioner of the Georgia economic development department, also said that the decision would help Georgia’s ambitions to be “a leader in international commerce.”

He praised the joint leadership of the governor and Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, in their mutual support for the project. Mr. Lesser is organizing the Savannah International Clean Energy Conference to be held in Savannah Nov 11-13.