With the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act freshly passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Friday, Coastal Georgia nonprofit leaders and elected officials are taking a look at how the coast’s needs fit into the act’s funding. Unlike the American Rescue Plan, which gave funding specifically to localities, this bill doesn’t earmark funding that way. Instead, according to the White House, the bill includes:

  • $89.9 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit over the next five years.
  • $66 billion in funding to eliminate the Amtrak maintenance backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor, and improve rail service outside the northeast and mid-Atlantic.
  • $110 billion in new funding to repair and rebuild roads and bridges “with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users.” 
  • $55 billion in funding for clean drinking water, with an emphasis on eliminating lead pipes.
  • $7.5 billion to build out a national network of EV chargers. 
  • $17 billion in port infrastructure and waterways.
  • $65 billion in funding to create universal access to reliable high-speed internet.
  • $65 billion in funding for clean energy transmission and power infrastructure upgrades.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) pushed to ensure the legislation included funding to help coastal Georgians prepare for more severe tropical storms, storm surge, and coastal flooding.

“This was one of my highest priorities in this infrastructure legislation was ensuring that there were significant investments in coastal resilience,” he told residents in St. Marys in August. “And it is my pleasure to report to you that there is more than $12 billion for coastal resilience in this bipartisan infrastructure bill. And that means resources that will flow to localities and counties for drainage infrastructure improvements for permeable pavers to assist with draining flood and tropical storm and storm surge events, for marsh land remediation and sustainment, for weatherization of public and private buildings so that communities like this one can withstand more and more intense tropical storms and flooding.”

King Tides plus rain and wind over the weekend flooded Riverside Drive in Glynn County. Rising sea levels will make similar floods more frequent in coming years. Credit: Josh Bain/Glynn County Emergency Management Agency

Jennifer Kline, a coastal hazards specialist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division said on Tuesday it’s too soon to which to know for which funds Coastal Georgia will be competitive.

 “We don’t have anything in the hopper because there are just too many unknowns,” she wrote in an email. “We have been working with partners to keep ourselves as prepared as possible.  

For Savannah Alderman Nick Palumbo, a few obvious projects come to mind:

“Certainly Tide to Town!” he texted, referring to a planned network of nearly 30 miles of protected walking and bicycling trails throughout Savannah. “Also drainage improvements to both the Casey and Springfield canals as well. And finally – Project DeRenne.”

Project DeRenne is a planned $60 million revitalization of a main east-west corridor in Savannah.

For Brionte McCorkle, the head of Georgia Conservation Voters, a caveat came first.

“I should start by saying that we really want to see the Build Back Better Act pass as well,” she said.

That’s a $1.75 trillion bill still working its way through Congress that proposes extensive social safety net and climate policies.

“There’s lots of money for infrastructure here (in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act), but not quite enough on the climate investment piece that we’re looking for, which I think is important for Coastal Georgia,” McCorkle said. “There are a lot of costs associated with what we expect to be more storms and more flooding. We need a lot of resilience infrastructure, a lot of disaster relief assistance, things like that, that I don’t think this bill goes far enough on.”

She did point to a few things in the bill that could benefit the coast.

“There’s some good stuff in here like clean energy research, development, and demonstration,” she said. “There’s grid modernization, some funding for resiliency, not enough, but some and funding for water infrastructure. And also electric vehicle infrastructure and EV school buses.”

The green dots show the locations of public EV chargers as of January 2021. Credit: Georgia Department of Economic Development

Coastal Georgia has only a small proportion of the state’s more than 930 publicly available EV charging stations, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Most of them are clustered in the Atlanta area.

“We’ve got to start building out infrastructure in other parts of the state,” McCorkle said. “Cars travel, people travel. We would need to make sure that we’ve got infrastructure all over the place so that people can get to any part of the state.”

Thirteen Republicans voted to pass the bill, but Coastal Georgia’s U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter was not among them.

The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

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